I manage a gay employee … and our company is homophobic

A reader writes:

I think my company and, honestly, I have managed to make rather a colossal mess out of a relatively easily resolved situation and I’m a bit lost on how to get back to how we were before.

I’m a middle manager for a third sector organization in the UK, and one of my best employees is Darren. Darren is extremely hard working and flexible and his knowledge of our services, policies, clients, etc. is encyclopedic. He had a health problem last year that had him off work unexpectedly for four weeks, and the sheer chaos that caused was the stuff of nightmares.

I was completely shocked when another employee, Alan, accused Darren of religious discrimination and harassment; obviously we investigated. It turned out that Alan was making disparaging remarks about Darren being gay. He was citing religion as his motive and was unhappy that Darren was unwilling to listen/filing his literature in the nearest bin and saying, among other things, “whether your homophobia comes from Allah, Buddha, the flying spaghetti monster, or David Icke’s lizard people, I don’t care and don’t have to listen.” Which Alan found disrespectful. I think Darren was probably less than diplomatic but Alan was highly tenacious and repetitive.

So problem solved … except this is where the train wreck begins.

First, both one of our managers and a member of HR gossiped (the lack of discretion in our office could be the topic of so many posts) about Darren being investigated, and a whole lot of increasingly dramatic rumors are now circling and Darren’s reputation has taken a hit. Darren is livid and his normal affable, easygoing attitude is definitely frayed.

Second, we asked him why he hadn’t reported Alan’s behavior before and he said he didn’t think we’d care or do anything since management had been present when Alan – and, for that matter, another colleague, clients, and even partner charities (we work with small local charities, some of which are religious based) – have made inappropriate remarks about homosexuality and kept silent. Including me on multiple occasions which, though it makes me cringe, I have to say is true. By staying silent I was hoping to keep drama and potential upset to a minimum (especially since Darren is generally so genial) rather than intending to give tacit consent. I shared this among the management team and the reaction has been … more defensive than constructive. Their often loud and lengthy reactions have not convinced Darren that he was wrong to assume we wouldn’t handle his complaints appropriately, nor have they convinced him to be any less livid.

I’m flailing now to try and deal with this mess. On a professional level, losing Darren would be a nightmare and a lesser nightmare would be to have Affable, Friendly, Helpful Darren be replaced by seething Absolutely Done With This Darren. But personally I also cringe because Darren really deserved better than this. I’m completely lost and highly embarrassed.

I wrote back and asked, “What has been done in regard to Alan’s harassment of Darren? Have there been consequences? And do you have a sense of what Darren would like to have happen next? Is the answer to that just ‘be in a respectful and equitable workplace where harassment isn’t tolerated’? And if so … how likely is that to happen there?”

That’s one good thing. Alan has been told on no uncertain terms that he’s extremely off-base and needs to stop.

Michael, his manager, has also had a very long discussion with him about “free to believe something” and “free to use your beliefs as a stick to poke people with.” He’ll also have a disciplinary on file. Hopefully the line has been firmly drawn under that and Darren should see the difference.

What Darren would like to see happen next: That’s something I should ask him. He hasn’t expressly said he wants anything per se, but that his trust, tolerance, and goodwill have all been impacted. He does want the gossip and rumors shut down, retracted, and apologized for but by people higher up the ladder than me … which I worry is too big an ask for our senior leadership team because they’re so completely unwilling to hear criticism (they’re very big blame shifters and get very defensive). Equally, I’m concerned that common homophobic comments by partner organizations and especially clients won’t be shut down because we have an almost infantilizing culture (there’s a running joke that a client could stab one of us and the director would apologize to them for the blood on their shoes).

Oh no. Okay.

There’s no good solution for Darren if he stays, because your organization’s culture is actively harmful. The best solution for Darren would be to leave (on his own terms, of course, but he should get out).

We shouldn’t be looking for ways to convince him to stay in an organization that’s okay with multiple people making homophobic remarks around employees (and they are okay with it, which we know because it happened repeatedly and in front of multiple members of management, and when called out on it they just got loudly defensive). We also shouldn’t want him to stay in an organization that’s okay with his reputation taking a hit because someone else has been harassing him (and your organization is okay with it — they let it happen in the first place, and they’re not taking any action to clear it up now).

Of course he’s livid. Livid is a rational response. He shouldn’t be affable or easygoing about this. What you are seeing from him right now is the logical reaction to what your organization has done to him.

And I think you’ve realized by now that your silence while Darren (and others) were subjected to homophobia was part of that. When you say you stayed quiet because you wanted to keep drama and upset to a minimum … what you’re saying is that you were willing to tolerate Darren being upset in the face of bigotry as long as the people expressing that bigotry weren’t upset. You certainly aren’t the first person to get this wrong! But it’s important to look at it head-on and see that you were prioritizing comfort and harmony for bigots over the safety and well-being of others, so that you can resolve to navigate that differently in the future (and so you can figure out how you’ll navigate it differently — as in “if someone says X, I will say Y,” because you’re much more likely to respond in the moment next time if you’ve prepared ahead of time).

But more broadly, it sounds like homophobia (and perhaps other types of bigotry?) pervades the culture of the organization, and you know that it’s going to continue.

I think you are significantly under-counting that part of things. When you say that you want to get back to how things were before … things before were bad for Darren, and they sound like they will continue being bad for Darren.

Given all that, the kindest, most ethical thing you can do for him would be to (a) apologize for your own inaction previously, (b) be honest that you don’t think the bigotry in the organization will change any time soon and that your senior leadership doesn’t care and gets defensive when asked about it, and (c) tell him you’ll support him in whatever he needs, including helping him leave if he wants to. You should also do everything you possibly can to shut down the false rumors about him, even if you have to talk to each person one-on-one to correct the record. As Darren’s boss, you should have credibility there.

But don’t try to keep him somewhere that’s actively harmful to him. And you might think about moving on yourself — what you’ve described is awfully poisonous, and it sounds like it has affected your own thinking. That’s incredibly common when you’re managing in a toxic environment. But when you realize that you’re trying to smooth over something that shouldn’t be smoothed over, and especially when you’re doing it from a position of authority, that’s a sign to extract yourself.

Read an update to this letter

{ 398 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    I also wanted to add a little context from the letter-writer. She and I had a bit of back and forth this morning and when I warned her that the comments on this one would likely be pretty critical, she said:

    I can’t say I’d blame people. I’m not proud of it myself – sometimes there’s so much drama and chaos here (that’s not even a criticism of the workplace, our clients are inherently chaotic and we have 1200 of them) that even the thought of potentially provoking another explosion or tantrum is unimaginable. You let it go even when you know its not fair and not right because after fighting 7 battles, taking on the 8th is hard.

    That was helpful to me in understanding the situation they’re all in, so I’m sharing it with her permission.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      My heart goes out to you, OP. You sound really beaten down. I won’t say that makes it okay, particularly from Darren’s point of view, but it’s so hard to keep your fight up in an environment like that. You clearly feel badly. I don’t want to kick you while you’re down. I just want to encourage you to get out of this environment if you can. This kind of place warps your perspective, and you see that now but it’s easy to get pulled back under the waves.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        People make jokes about a culture because they need to share an uncomfortable truth. The reason that there is a running joke “that a client could stab one of us and the director would apologize to them for the blood on their shoes” is because OP’s upper management is fine with sacrificing their top employees and it isn’t even safe to push back on that behavior.

        As someone who worked at a toxic workplace where everyone joked about it being a “cult” and “drinking the Kool-aid”, I urge OP to believe the truth everyone is saying and GET OUT. Urge Darren to get out too, give him all the support you can, and give him the amazing reference he deserves.

        1. yala*

          Yeah, when I read that line about the blood on their shoes, I flashed back to my previous job where a patron had a note on her account after literally throwing a book at my coworker’s head. When she found out she had a note (not even knowing what it said), she complained to our manager, who apologized and removed it immediately. Said manager also apologized to a man who threw an absolute screaming fit because the person checking out his books was Deaf.

          When you’re in a place like that, it’s just…it’s horrible for you on a mental, emotional, and spiritual level. It festers.

          You can’t always find a job where management Has Your Back, but at the very least you should find a job where management doesn’t treat you as less than dirt. OP should get out too.

        2. goddessoftransitory*

          YES. Jesters have been a thing for centuries because they’ve been the one reliable way truth can sneak into a room!

          LW, not only should you support Darren, but you need to bail on this on-fire chaos circus post haste. Your management richly deserves to lose both of you.

        3. laser99*

          Darren sounds like the type of employee most of us can only dream about. He should blow that dump.

      2. Fishsticks*

        I had a similar thought reading the letter/Allison’s reply – that LW sounded just so… resigned to misery and beaten into the ground by the company culture. I hope they and Darren are both able to escape this place.

      3. goddessoftransitory*

        Reading her explanation made me think “I get it–like pretty much everyone ever since 2016.” Outrage exhaustion is a real thing, and when you’re in the swamp and paddling for your life, sometimes you just can’t kick every alligator in the head, even though you know they’re dangerous and ruining your existence.

    2. Tinkerbell*

      It’s important to remember that we all had to start somewhere, too – if you’ve never had someone queer (or Jewish or Black or or or) in your life, it’s much harder to separate out the behavior that THEY want you to use for them from the behavior that the media and your peers use. Kudos to the OP for being self-aware enough to question the status quo.

      1. Twix*

        It’s also much harder to separate out the behavior they use because everything is okay from the behavior they use because they’re choosing their battles in a culture where things very much are not okay. That seems to be one of the central themes of this letter – LW initially struggling with Darren’s reaction because it seemed to come out of left field, then struggling with the discomfort of realizing that it wasn’t out of left field at all if you actually look at it from his perspective.

        People in marginalized groups learn that it’s often more costly to speak up over individual minor injustices than to simply tolerate them, because people have a tendency to attack the person rocking the boat rather than the person who filled it with lobsters. Doubly so when the individual complaints seem minor (“It was just a joke.” “He probably didn’t mean that the way you took it.” “It was just words. Be the bigger person.”) and people remain wilfully blind to the larger pattern. And that’s a self-reinforcing cycle, because when people stop challenging the individual incidents, the larger pattern gets easier and easier to ignore. This is why it’s so important for people who aren’t part of a given marginalized group to challenge bigotry toward it – because when you can’t write off objections as oversensitive self-interest, it becomes a lot harder to pretend there isn’t a legitimate problem. Whereas not doing so sends the message that it’s not a big enough deal to be worth any trouble, which sends the message to the people facing discrimination that they’re putting themselves at risk by speaking up (because they are), which means people don’t speak up until things reach the point of a capital-P Problem, which is how you end up with Normally Affable Darren, The Great Employee Who Is Suddenly Done With Everybody’s Bullshit.

        1. goddessoftransitory*


          I hate how toxicity and hate have weaponized diplomacy–it’s become the “mature” reaction to allow those slimy little darts of homophobia/misogyny/racism because reacting means EVERYBODY has to deal now and it takes so much time and makes everybody so uncomfortable and…

          So the one person gets to be the Judas Goat and tolerate all the crap.

        2. quicksilver*

          I wish Twix’s comment could be pinned!

          It’s too rarely understood that many of us Affable Darren types are actually on some level Seething And Done With This but simultaneously Must Prioritise Self-Preservation. Marginalised people are constantly sorted into “the nice ones” or “the rude, mean, nasty, aggressive ones” according to whether we object to our own oppression in a way that could conceivably make anyone else a tiny bit uncomfy even unintentionally, and there are material consequences to how we are sorted by the people we work for/with.

          I’m not one to place a ton of weight on the role of allies in general, but this is an area where they can absolutely make a difference: go against respectability politics and act in solidarity with the people whose reputations are being sacrificed to it.

          1. boof*

            I can’t help but relate this to being a female in martial arts – SO MUCH mysogeny depending on the place, and yet most of the time it slid right off me because LOL. But I had one bad day, I remember, and this random old dude started going on about how I had to be careful about my punches because I could break my tiny little wrists (this dude was not a teacher or as far as I know, any way affiliated at all with anything) and I was just like, breakdown. I cannot take this level of condescention (I had been practicing martial arts for many years at that point, knew damn well about keeping my wrists lined up with my knuckles, and WTF who has broken a wrist punching something; certainly not me or anyone I know – main risk is just throwing a bad punch, cutting your knuckles, etc – falling wrong sure just— what)

          2. dackquiri*

            The whole “nice ones”/”nasty ones” dichotomy is why it sucks so much when the rumors start flying, like they have about Darren. You only get to stay in the “nice ones” category if you never sour the vibe over matters of identity. There are ways to bite back against bigotry, but it usually requires having ten times the cleverness and social dexterity as the offender. People are very quick to fill in their own narrative (and with rumors, it’s a game of telephone where the degradation of the message takes the form of slandering the oppressed person’s character), and before you know it, Darren is a “nasty one” to people who actually would have sided with him if they’d been present.

        3. Nina*

          In my previous workplace I was the only woman and only queer person in a department of 70, which was extremely siloed from all other departments, and had a mixture of what we considered professionals (had relevant degree, mostly worked with data) and tradespeople (had apprenticeship, mostly worked with things), and the culture leaned heavily towards the trades side of the department.

          In order to get through the day, I had to pick battles all the time.
          Sexual innuendo? okay, I’ll let it go. Sexual talk that got personal and graphic? ‘Hey can you not’
          Homophobia? not worth wasting my breath, let it go.
          Racism? not worth wasting my breath, let it go.
          ‘haha women suck’? unless it was personal, let it go.
          Boss making everyone take a covid test and announcing the results in front of the whole office with ‘good news you’re not pregnant’? had to let that one go too.

          It was exhausting, and deciding to let things go made it marginally less exhausting,

        4. dackquiri*

          The whole “minor individual complaints” thing is such a pain. Like, is it part of a pattern? Yeah, but I don’t keep a categorized notebook of every little dig made at my masculinity/lack-thereof’s expense. You wait out anything that’s too vague or insufficiently blatantly disrespectful… and when you finally get something that’s pretty unambiguously hurtful. You finally elevate it and: “Well, that’s admittedly not great. But you’ve been working together eight months and this is the first issue? Let’s not blow this out of proportion.”

    3. Aggretsuko*

      I just wanted to say that I sympathize with being exhausted at fighting 7 battles and then battle #8 comes along. Especially since it sounds like battles 1-7 already got lost, so why keep trying. It doesn’t sound like standing up for Darren would do any good.

      Beyond that, not much to say, obviously Darren will probably quit and good for him.

      1. Mad Harry Crewe*

        Well, it wouldn’t do any good for the bigger picture. I can guarantee you, it would do good for Darren in that moment.

            1. Roland*

              I think they’re just asking for clarification on a comment written in a slightly confusing way.

          1. Hlao-roo*

            Not Mad Harry Crewe, but the point is that “battle #8” is responding to one of Alan’s homophobic remarks. Will Alan stop being homophobic? Unlikely. Will everyone in upper management suddenly stop being a bigot? No.

            But for Darren, the OP speaking up during “battle #8” is the difference between thinking “everyone here agrees with Alan and is homophobic” and “LW doesn’t agree with Alan.”

            1. Elitist Semicolon*

              And “LW doesn’t agree with Alan” can be a lifeline to someone who feels like they’re drowning under the weight of everyone else’s judgment/hatred/bigotry. Probably not enough for Darren to want to stay, but enough that he knows he’s not entirely alone.

              1. kicking-k*

                Elitist Semicolon, yes, this. “My boss is a decent human being” is probably a band-aid on the situation when everyone else is a nightmare, but it may buy some valuable grace time for Darren to plan his departure at a pace that suits him rather than diving for the emergency exit.

                1. Quill*

                  Yep. Darren is leaving, whether that’s tomorrow or next year. But LW learning to be a more assertive ally will make the difference in whether they’re used as a reference, if they continue to have any contact after they both leave, etc.

                  Also, LW: please do hunt for a new job.

          2. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

            Isn’t it obvious why standing up for Darren would do good for him in that moment?

            I am honestly biting my tongue here so as not to say something unpleasant because I’m so mystified that anyone would
            need to ask this question.

            1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

              P.S. I just read all the replies to that question (which I should have done first), and I realize now that my reply was pointless, because everybody else did such a good job of actually answering it. If I could this useless comment, I would!

          3. Mad Harry Crewe*

            Sure. You said “It doesn’t sound like standing up for Darren would do any good.” I disagree with that statement – standing up for Darren would specifically do good for Darren, in that moment. It might not change anything in the long-term for the organization as a whole, but it would matter to Darren, and that is not nothing.

            Be Darren for a moment with me. Scenario 1: Customer says something casually homophobic in front of his manager and nobody says anything – the conversation moves on. Darren is not in a position with much leverage here, because he is the customer service agent. The expectation of his role is that he’ll smooth things over and keep on keeping on. However, he has more information about his manager and there are a few possibilities (none of them good).
            A. His manager agrees
            B. His manager didn’t notice
            C. His manager disagrees but doesn’t care enough about Darren to say anything
            D. Organization policy requires his manager to keep quiet

            All of these suck, for various reasons.
            A: his manager cannot be trusted. Even if the manager has a carve out in her homophobia for “acceptable queer because of personal relationship” – that is conditional on remaining in the manager’s good graces and can be withdrawn at any time and without warning.
            B: his manager doesn’t care enough to be aware of an issue affecting a huge number of people, or alert to its real-world signs.
            C: his manager is protecting herself at Darren’s expense
            D: his organization is protecting or benefitting itself at Darren’s expense

            Additionally, the customer carries on in the belief that what they said is acceptable to say in public, and will carry on saying things like that in the future.

            Scenario 2: Customer says something homophobic. Manager says “oh, we don’t say things like that here” or “oh, I haven’t found that to be the case” or “what a bizarre thing to say” or “please don’t talk like that in front of me and my team.”
            Customer learns that being homophobic here is not acceptable. Customer may continue to push this or not, but they’re on notice. Darren learns that his manager (1) can recognize homophobia when she hears it, and (2) cares enough about Darren to say something. Manager is in a better position to speak up than Darren, because she is not in the customer service role – she is a manager and has some say over the working conditions of her team.

        1. Badger*

          Yep. Especially because a manager generally has more sway in a workplace than an employee. Yes LW might need to go to every gossip individually, but it’s better than doing nothing.

          (And further, as a former exhausted manager: LW, look into quitting too)

        2. DataSci*

          This x1000. Knowing that he’s not completely alone, that there are others who don’t agree with the homophobia he’s surrounded by, can mean a lot even if it isn’t enough to change the environment.

        3. Kippu*

          Nevermind. I misread both comments. I parsed the comment such that Darren quitting would only be good for Darren in the moment.

          1. Mad Harry Crewe*

            PHEW ok thank you. We’re cool, I was really worried about how you could have misunderstood.

        4. boof*

          Might even do LW good… I mean fighting the battle is hard but also sometimes it’s nice to know maybe you won’t win, but you won’t be defeated either :/
          Also get out get out get out?

          1. boof*

            Also, it’s amazing sometimes laying down boundaries actually makes LESS battles because people know they can’t push you around / that you’re a human not a punching bag / various generous vs less generous ways of saying enforcing small boundaries can actually be pretty easy. Even just saying “Wow! Really? Anyway [subject change]” can be a low level call out that won’t be so exhausting but does push back

            1. Library Penguin*

              I’m openly queer, in the UK, and work in a field that attracts Nice White Ladies Who Have Never Examined Their Internalised Bigotry Because They Would NEVER. Can confirm that having a short stock response DOES work! Boof’s “Wow, really? [Subject change]” is perfect (are you also a Captain Awkward reader?), but other examples I’ve used are:

              * Ew, gross. [Subject change]
              * I don’t agree, so can we talk about [subject change]
              * Mate, I’m not gonna get into all the ways that’s wrong because I need to talk to you about [subject change]
              * What a horrible thing to say. [Subject change]
              * … I can’t believe you just said that. ANYWAY. [Subject change]

              For me, a win is when people start huffing about “Oh, don’t say that around Penguin, she’ll think you’re [racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic/etc etc etc]” because yes! Yes I will! And sure I’m not changing hearts and minds, but I’m getting some peace and that’s a start.

              1. kicking-k*

                Hello! I’m in a very similar situation, and also _am_ a nice white lady (but hey intersectionality… I am other things as well) so fairly often come up against this because it doesn’t occur to people I will disagree. I do, politely but vocally, using similar scripts. And I think it’s especially important that I do since I look like part of the in-group.

              2. Cyborg Llama Horde*

                I have somehow cultivated an image of Does Not Put Up With That BS (I have no idea how; I wish I knew because then I could teach other people), and it is SO useful. It (I assume) doesn’t help for one-off client nonsense, but even coworkers who who are known to push boundaries a little don’t generally try it with me.

                1. Splendid Colors*

                  I am trying to be the person who Does Not Put Up With That BS. I hope it doesn’t end up making me the person who Inspires Disgruntled ex-Union Members To Rat the Union Out to Management. Nevertheless, we can’t have a union where new members see existing members making disparaging comments about everyone you can refer to with some flavor of mental health slur. Especially when “Management needs to stop using mental health slurs about union members” is one of the union’s demands. That’s not just wrong when it’s inaccurate, it’s wrong morally/ethically to talk to anyone that way. We have folks who are in treatment and don’t need to hear that kind of bigotry, as well as people like me who get lots of slurs about mental health and intellectual disability thanks to the quality of “autism awareness” training in the USA. (The abysmally low quality, that is.) And the people who have a serious mental illness but aren’t doing so well at treatment don’t need to hear that kind of dehumanizing rejection. Casual ableism is no way to get them to join the community and stop doing disruptive stuff, is it?

              3. boof*

                Yep, definitely think I originally got that from captain awkward!
                I am also often in a position of a fair amount of power (physician) and it’s helpful when a patient, who may have various problems (brain mets, psychosis, or just hurting/sad), says something out of line (rare, but it happens) – be it bigoted or just mean. I try to keep the focus on their problem and that we’re doing our best to help them, what our limitations are, but also call out bad behavior lightly “that’s inappropriate [move on]” and/or up to behavior management plan eventually if it’s bad/persistent. It takes a lot for me to fire someone but abuse of staff or bystanders (and I include bigoted remarks with cursing, general name calling, etc) is pretty much the main way to eventually get fired.

      2. Katie*

        Standing up in the moment would have had an impact. It’s almost the ONLY thing that has immediate impact.

      3. MassMatt*

        I sympathize with the exhaustion also, but well, welcome to the life of the LGBTQ and other marginalized people.

        And here’s a really important distinction: The ally or bystander can always decide to say nothing and let these aggressions go, at very little personal cost. Every time someone LGBTQ (or otherwise marginalized) has to just let something slide, a little piece of their soul dies.

        I hope people in this situation, especially managers or other figures with some sort of power, can remember this, take a deep breath, and call this sort of behavior out. It may not create change, at least not immediately. But one thing we know for sure is doing nothing is a complete victory for the status quo.

        1. Nebula*

          Absolutely. I was once in a position where I’d been invited to join an Equality Impact Assessment for new guidelines around engaging with trans employees, service users and clients. I had been invited as I was known to be non-binary and I think they just wanted a trans person there. Someone hijacked the meeting with transphobic bullshit fairly early on – something I had anticipated, and as such, I offered my contributions and left, stating that I was leaving because I wasn’t going to engage with a transphobe. All the nice cis people in that meeting sent me sympathetic emails afterwards, but not one of them stood up for me in the moment. It would have made a huge amount of difference if they had. That incident contributed to my decision to leave that organisation because I felt I couldn’t trust my colleagues from then on.

    4. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Given this extra comment – I honestly think the best thing for both you and Darren is to get out of this organization. This company sounds dysfunctional, but they can’t be the only company that offers this service – maybe one of the others would be more supportive of their staff.

    5. Beth*

      This definitely does help explain your lack of earlier action, LW. When you’re already fighting constant battles AND you know your leadership doesn’t have your back at all, of course you don’t feel equipped to take on more.

      But it’s important to note, Darren is dealing with the same environment and same fights and same lack of support you’re dealing with–AND is additionally dealing with rampant homophobia on a routine basis. Of course he’s livid!! Of course he’s done!!

      Short of changing the entire organization’s culture (which sounds wildly outside the realm of your control, so please don’t read this as me telling you that you should be able to do that), there is nothing you can do to prevent you from losing Darren. Honestly, focus on 1) supporting him on getting out, 2) prepping your team to take over the work he’s been doing, and 3) maybe considering whether it’s time for you to move on as well.

    6. Tio*

      One thing I noticed about the letter that really puts a spotlight on what kind of environment they’re in:
      “management had been present when Alan – and, for that matter, another colleague, clients, and even partner charities (we work with small local charities, some of which are religious based) – have made inappropriate remarks about homosexuality and kept silent.”

      Mostly that part about other colleagues, clients and partners. Perhaps Alan has been dealt with (although it sounds like a slap on the wrist, if anything) but what has management put in effect for others? Was there any training or email from HR reminding other colleagues this isn’t ok? Have they developed set responses for when this happens with clients and partners and deployed such to those who will be in these meetings, particularly management? Do they really understand this is not an Alan only problem? because it sounds like they’ve “disciplined” Alan and sort of… moved on, we’re done here, case closed. If not, are they willing to do any of these things to show Darren they’re serious about changing things? (Not that I think Darren should stay, he should get out ASAP IMO, but still. This should be a baseline for cleaning up this sort of behavior.)

      1. *kalypso*

        Part of that though, is probably that they can’t push back in front of the religious clients, and don’t know how to handle that gracefully so they just don’t.

        1. Saradactyl*

          As a queer person, I would have far, far, FAR more respect for a manager/business who *would* push back against religious bigots than one who just lets that bigotry remain unchallenged, reacting only with silence (or worse, agreement!). You CAN push back! Okay, you may lose the bigots as clients, but do you really want them as clients? Can you morally sign off on helping them achieve *anything*? I couldn’t.
          I’m not a manager, but I’ve worked for many, in everything from restaurant work to retail, IT, and private security. The best manager I’ve ever had was a former boss who refused patrons service if she heard anything homophobic out of them. Two of the waitstaff were gay men, and I was an uneducated, uninformed little proto-queer who had no idea what I really was, but knew I absolutely was NOT into guys and did not feel at all right in a female-looking body, so knowing that Kim would have our backs and not allow us to be harassed or disparaged was wonderful! She was not rude unless the patrons pushed her to that point, but she’d say things like “Those sorts of comments are not welcome here. If you can’t respect everyone equally, then you should go elsewhere.” and “Your bigotry doesn’t make your religion sound remotely appealing.”
          You CAN push back. You may have to word what you say carefully, but you can still push back!

          1. Alexander Graham Yell*

            I had a boss once use a letter-of-the-law style approach to get rid of a homophobic customer who was harassing one of my coworkers. She sent him to the back and was just aggressively helpful, followed the guys who were harassing my colleague, asking what she could do, how she could help, and physically put herself between them and her employee every step of the way. Under no circumstances were we ever allowed to ask customers to leave the store, so she made sure that if they called to complain the only thing they’d be able to say would boil down to “She was too focused on helping us.”

            She was a good 12-16 inches shorter than the guys she was talking to, too, and it reminded me of nothing so much as a really determined Yorkie. But every single one of us knew that she’d protect us after that and it bought a LOT of loyalty.

          2. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

            “Your bigotry doesn’t make your religion sound remotely appealing.”

            OMG, I love this. Filing it away for future reference!

            I also love Kim. She sounds like exactly what I aspire to be.

          3. *kalypso*

            That’s great if the org is for it; if it comes from higher up to not antagonise the client or whatever wording then it’s a s*** sandwich for the people in between too, and they may not have the tools to be subtle or walk the line.

          4. PotatoEngineer*

            I get the impression that OP is working for some flavor of mental health support, which would explain the (possibly physically) violent clients. The company may not have the option to refuse clients. (Or rather, they just never use it, because most clients for that business are going to be *some* flavor of difficult.)

  2. Nostalgic Wellness Coach*

    Wow. Alison gave the best possible advice anyone can give in this situation.

    1. Tinkerbell*

      I would add to Alison’s advice: do what you can to make Darren NOT the sole pillar holding your department up! Because he WILL leave, and you may or may not have time to spread around his duties or hire someone with his exact skillset. You’ve been given a valuable opportunity to predict the future here – take advantage of it!

      1. Presea*

        +1. Always assume anyone could suddenly leave, whether temporarily or permanently. Assume key combinations of 2-3 team members could suddenly leave at the same time. Do whatever you can to ensure key workflows are documented and key tasks have redundancy.

        That being said, from your update, it sounds like you’re just plain beaten down with this job… so if you wait until your next job to put this advice into actual motion, I don’t blame you. You should have been hearing this for the first time from someone above you when Darren’s leave caused such chaos at the absolute latest, not from an internet comment section.

        1. Tio*

          yeah – At this point you have to understand that Darren is going to leave. Maybe not this month, maybe not even this year, but you’ve shown him that he’s not going to be comfortable here long term. So make sure processes are documented and there some kind of backup in place – which should have been done anyway, as his time off showed you.

          1. ferrina*

            Exactly. Darren should and most likely will leave. And you, OP, should be helping him, because what he’s enduring is not acceptable and is not going to change. So take the steps to make the transition easier on everyone.

            And when people ask you why Darren left, tell them it was the homophobia. Don’t hide it. Let them feel the consequence of their actions (and yes, they’ll deny it. The point isn’t to expect change from them- the point is to let the accountability exist. Return discomfort to sender).

        2. Susannah*

          Yes – this is great advice even if you don’t face the situation of a stellar worker ready to leave because management won’t shut down a bigoted bully.

          It’s *always* bad if the organization relies too heavily on one person. Even if that person is happy with no intentions to leave. Things happen – people move for family, people get hit by buses. It’s like – you wouldn’t put your entire retirement account in one stick, right? Prepare for disruption.

      2. Chris*

        I’m petty and vindictive… I say to the OP help Darren build his resume (while building their own as well) and both get out. In the mean time, make Darren and his position even MORE foundational. So that when the two of them nope out of the org it crumbles into further chaos. >_> But I’m gay myself so I see too much personal pain in his situation to be particular neutral here.

        1. Federal employee drone*

          I’m not even gay and leaving them high and dry in the lurch when Darren and OP bail was my first response too.

          So far, I’ve only had one.

          1. Twix*

            I’m very much not the petty and vindictive type, but this letter is a fantastic example of why addressing institutionalized bigotry is a real organizational interest, not just a feel-good waste of time, and how cultural problems can cause organizations to implode. Allowing employees to be harassed or abused has a real cost, and that cost is institutional knowledge.

            1. Jellyfish Catcher*

              I agree to both the OP and Darren building their resumes. And I can fully appreciate the “revenge” game plan – as a fantasy.
              But that should never be done. It could even slop over to be considered collusion; in any case, don’t stir this pot of sewage.

              Darren has enough emotional damage and pressure already; it sounds like he’s at burnout. He needs support from the OP, even if belated, and time to regroup. He needs to be at his best not for this company, but at his best for himself and for future interviews.
              The best that the OP can do is be honest with him as to how she failed him, be proactive to support him going forward, take pressure off him where she can and give him a sterling recommendation.
              OP, you sound like a good person: you are self aware, willing to acknowledge your mistakes and seek advice as to how to be better.
              You deserve better was well as Darren, and need to get out as well.
              God speed.

          2. laser99*

            Same. It’s not even pettiness or vindictiveness. You want them to realize the cost of their behavior.

        2. Hlao-roo*

          I was thinking the same thing for the same reason. Darren and the OP should get out and let the whole toxic organization reap what it’s sown.

      3. Observer*

        do what you can to make Darren NOT the sole pillar holding your department up! Because he WILL leave, and you may or may not have time to spread around his duties or hire someone with his exact skillset.

        Yes. This was my second thought. He’s going to leave. Don’t leave yourself so dependent on him.

        Don’t push him out! But understand that you simply cannot keep him given how he has been – and continues! to be abused.

        1. Daisy*

          OP – Please do NOT ask Darren to document, train others, or give him duties he doesn’t want at this time. It is absolutely not fair to Darren and definitely smacks of “Here train your replacement so we can fire you” management.

          It is very bad to have any processes or business hinge on only one person. The company should have fixed this long ago. That noted – at this time you should be supporting Darren to your utmost in whatever he wants to do (increase skills/title, flextime to deal with the situation, references, etc.). It is not his job to pull the company chestnuts out of the fire after they allowed the situation to get out of control.

      4. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Given what you’ve now seen – start the what happens when Darren is gone plan – because the best thing for Darren is to leave.

        And probably the best thing for OP is also to leave, because the management here doesn’t seem to think that any of their employees are valuable.

      5. Seeking Second Childhood*

        A thought–if Darren would be willing to formally update department procedures & give a training class, that’s a STELLAR resume accomplishment. I’d suggest you take the class so no one gives him a bad time. And then he takes a short vacation so you can see who learned.

        1. Elitist Semicolon*

          I’m sure you mean well by this, but the responsibility shouldn’t fall to Darren. It’s asking him to do more work and to bear an even greater brunt of being (apparently) the only out gay employee. Asking the member of a marginalized group to take on the task of educating everyone else isn’t okay.

          1. *kalypso*

            Asking a marginalised person to educate others about their identity, how to be basic kind decent human 101, inclusion generally, etc. is asking them to do the emotional labour of making themselves fit your needs and that’s not okay.

            Asking an employee who is the only person who knows how to do stuff to teach coworkers how to do stuff is a work direction. Situationally, adding extra duties or expecting people to train their replacement or increasing reporting/oversight can be harassment or discrimination, but it is not inherently so, and it is misleading to conflate ‘educating about marginalised identity’ and ‘educating coworkers on work’ without clearly identifying that one is increasing the emotional labour and cognitive load of someone for being themselves, and one needs to be considered in context and evaluated in regards to whether it is harassment or just someone’s job,

        2. Anonosaurus*

          i doubt that Darren needs this on his resume, and it shouldn’t be his responsibility to take on this task. The organization needs to take seriously the need for appropriate training and policy, and resource this adequately – which cannot mean giving an employee like Darren who is close to burnout a ton of additional tasks on the pretext it’ll be good for his resume. If I were Darren and the company asked me to do this, it would significantly accelerate my departure.

      6. goddessoftransitory*

        It’s like the letter from the person who was retiring and their management had done nothing to prep for her departure, basically thinking she’d just stay on for “a while.” But in this instance they have turned Darren into the Library of Alexandria and then invited all their worst actors over for a barbecue. How could this possibly end badly???

        1. Daisy*

          Yeah, absolutely not fair to Darren and no place that I worked would consider it a huge accomplishment. Don’t ask this of him.

      7. Anna*

        This is wise advice, but I can’t help but think what this might look like from Darren’s point of view. Harrassed by Alan, then in the center of a big stink about how the organisation is homophobic, and then when things quiet down, suddenly his boss starts to work on making him expendable, so the organisation can more easily do without him. OP should explain to Darren very, very well why she does this.

    2. Not Mindy*

      I’d like to second this. OP sent a sincere question, acknowledged her own part in things, and appears very open to constructive criticism. At times I have also unwittingly been out of touch about inappropriate remarks that didn’t directly impact me.
      Allison was, as usual, straightforward without being cruel. And gave the OP some wonderful advice.
      Best of luck to the OP and especially to Darren.

      1. Sloanicota*

        Yeah I hope the commentariat can remember that OP is trying to own their behavior and asking for help, which is so rare and so great. I know I respect them for being clear-eyed enough to do that.

    3. KeinName*

      I would just add to frame any support for Darren in leaving the org truely as support, because one’s boss mentioning one might want to leave could sound like they are about to fire one. Or strongly suggest one resigns. Not what he needs right now. If he has worked in this homophonic environment so long he might be adept at ignoring the everyday homophobia and have found some things that make the job worthwhile for him despite the horrific bigotry.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        I wonder if it would be worth asking him to grab a cup of coffee with you off site and lay out for Darren what you can change and what you can’t, totally FYI tone, so that he can make the best choices for him.

        I’m thinking off site just so that OP doesn’t get attacked by some other manager for doing what is in the best interests of Darren as opposed to the company.

        1. Susannah*

          This is a great idea. No point in promising something that won’t materialize. And no matter what LW says or does, sounds like she can’t change the basic culture there.

          I’m guessing in the UK this was not actionable?

          1. English Rose*

            Hi Susannah, not quite sure which element you’re talking about being actionable but here in the UK we do have constructive dismissal. In theory if OP does have this conversation with Darren that is a danger. So I agree the offsite element and tone of voice are really important.
            At least this toxic organisation has gone to disciplinary for what Alan has done. But it sounds as if they’ve done it defensively because sexual orientation is a protected characteristic under law, rather than out of concern for Darren.
            OP I echo what others have said about applauding your self-awareness and willingness to admit not standing up before. You and Darren both need to get out.
            Good luck to you both.

            1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

              Yeah – my thought when I came up with the convo was – this place is full of bees, there is only so much this manager (who hasn’t been completely beaten down – only mostly by the chaos they are trying in vain to contain) is able to do to protect Darren. So one person to another, independent of the company, give Darren the information and then let Darren make the best decision for himself.

              But yeah – this place is a mess – and OP also needs to boogie on out before it ruins their sense of professional norms as well.

          2. fil*

            Very much actionable. This is something Darren could take straight to an Employment Tribunal as a discrimination claim under the Equality Act 2010 – and “but you are discriminating against me as a Christian by not letting me bully a colleague” is not going to go down very well as a defence. Constructive dismissal gets a bit more difficult. But it’s a long, draining process to go through, so Darren may decide it’s not worth it, even if you don’t have to have a lawyer to do so. It’s also possible that OP could bring a claim if they are retaliated against for defending Darren, although that’s trickier and I’d want to get legal advice on that one.

      2. kicking-k*

        Yes, I agree – there can be no sniff of any intent to push Darren out, and OP needs to find out what Darren wants and needs. Even if you’re a stellar employee it’s not always quick to find a new job that’s suitable, and we all like to pay our bills. I’ve stuck in an unsuitable UK workplace myself because leaving at that point would have imploded my life plans by disqualifying me for parental leave. We all know people who’ve persisted with US jobs so as not to lose health insurance for family members. He may have uncounted reasons why in the short term staying is best for him… even if it’s otherwise terrible.

    4. Tio*

      She did – and you know what I missed on the first read?
      management had been present when Alan – and, for that matter, another colleague, clients, and even partner charities (we work with small local charities, some of which are religious based) – have made inappropriate remarks about homosexuality and kept silent.

      So even if Alan is taken care of – and it doesn’t honestly sound to me like he got much more than a slap on the wrist, if anything – you still have this problem with the others.

      What are your planned strategies for shutting down ALL these people in the future? Has management committed to saying something when things like this pop up, as apparently they will? Have they circulated a notice from HR reminding people not to say things like this, some training, anything? Or did they just tell Alan to knock it off and move on without addressing anything else?

      As Alison said, Darren ought to move on, and quick.

  3. Chairman of the Bored*

    LW should tell Darren very cleary that if he decides to leave they’ll give him a sterling personal/professional recommendation – regardless of whether the company policy discourages this sort of thing.

    This company is not reasonable and their policies shouldn’t govern Darren’s ability to land someplace better and more deserving of him.

    1. Brain the Brian*

      Seconding this as a “fellow Darren.” I have no active plans to leave my employer, but if the baked-in homophobia of my company ever got to be too much, this would mean the most to me.

      1. NotBatman*

        As a fellow fellow Darren: I left a position after a single “my religion won’t let me agree with that lifestyle” comment (which went unaddressed by senior leaders), and my manager’s compassionate understanding was the best gift she could’ve given me under the circumstances.

        1. Katie*

          Religion has absolutely no place in the workplace. None. Outside of a church, temple, etc. it should be shut down immediately.

          1. Higgs bison*

            I feel that’s an overreaction, as that implies that headscarves or cross jewelry shouldn’t be allowed, catered meals shouldn’t be chosen with kosher options, lunch breaks should be monitored to ensure no one is fasting or saying grace to themselves, and no one who goes to a Good Friday and Easter church service should be allowed to talk about their weekend.

            That said, I do think that the maxim “your right to swing your fist stops at my face” is a reasonable one to apply here. Acknowledging your religion or asking for reasonable accomodation (schedule, food options, attire, etc), is not a problem. Disparaging a coworker is a problem.

            1. Jessica*

              Exactly this.

              A lot of the problems can be covered with “no proselytizing,” and the rest can probably be covered with “no disparaging others.”

            2. Bunny Lake Is Found*

              This. It’s the difference between offering a private space for employees where, if it is an element of their faith, they could go and pray during the work day and allowing someone to stand up and start every meeting with the Our Father. It’s a personal expression

              1. UKDancer*

                Definitely. I think a decent employer allows people space for their personal beliefs whether that’s wearing a symbol of their religion or having a space to pray. I’m not about to tell Bupinder to take his turban off or stop Hayley wearing a cross. My company provides a range of dietary options (religious and other) for meals and a prayer room for those who want it.

                But religion is a personal thing, you don’t get to tell others that they should follow your religion or be critical of them for not doing so. Proselytising should absolutely be forbidden and so should making people feel uncomfortable or telling them that they’re evil sinners.

            3. goddessoftransitory*

              This. And especially that newest, grossest “but my accomodation REQUIRES that I place harassing materials around the workspace and loudly inform Coworker that they are going to hell!” version of weaponizing adult interactions and societal behaviors.

          2. Jessica*

            Three things:

            1) The problem here isn’t “religion.” It’s a specific *proselytizing* religion, and a homophobic form of that religion. Say Christian when you mean Christian. Not all religions proselytize or otherwise attempt to make others follow their practices and norms.

            2) America and Western Europe are *heavily* culturally Christian, which means very Christian cultural norms get treated as normal and default and not religious, and other cultural practices get treated as marked and “religious.” I’ve been told my magen david necklace was “religious” and has no place in a workplace, while a coworker’s gothy crucifix earrings were fine. People who aren’t from minority traditions are generally pretty terrible at distinguishing between religious practices and other cultural practices, probably because *there is no bright line between those things.*

            The result of “no ‘religion’ in this space” is usually “you must all assimilate into white Protestant cultural norms because we’re going to tag any signs of your cultural/traditional/ethnic norms and practices as ‘religious.'”

            That attitude actually *upholds* Christian normativity and white supremacy.

            Stick with “don’t proselytize at work,” because “no religion outside your temple/mosque/church, etc.” ends up equating to “assimilate into white Christian culture and divest yourself of any signs of your culture/heritage.”

            3) Do you know what “any sign of [Jewishness] should be shut down immediately” sounds like to a Jew? It has some *very* ugly historical echoes. From multiple time periods. Pretty sure it has ugly echoes for Indigenous people, too.

            1. Irish Teacher*

              I had a bit of a reminder of number 2 today when I asked a student who is Muslim if he’d had a good Ramadan and he said he had, then sort of paused for a moment and asked how I’d known about it. It was clearly the first time today he’d been asked and I had him the second last period of the day. It was a very clear contrast to the amount of times we get asked about Christmas. So I can well imagine discussions of Ramada reading as religious when something like Christmas might not.

              1. Rebecca*

                Ugh, yes. I teach in France, and somehow, every year, the school can have a ‘secular’ Santa visit and a ‘secular’ Easter egg hunt, but any mention of Eid and that’s too religious for school. I’d love to just have some secular Eid desserts, they are delicious.

            2. Loony Lovegood*

              YES YES YES YES YES thank you Jessica! “Say Christian when you mean Christian.” YES.

            3. Snow*

              Hey, if you’re free to explain to some of my co-workers that their religion isn’t homophobic because they’re not Christian, let me know when. Some of us talk about “religion” because we’re thinking of a couple different religions, not because we forgot the word “Christianity”.

              1. Anon1*

                Totally agree. As someone who is from England and familiar with a lot of the main religions practiced here, trust me when I say that Christianity is not the only homophobic religion in the UK. In fact, in terms of working with community groups, it’s equally likely to be a different religion. That can sometimes make it harder to deal with as people get unsure of where religious / cultural practices can be challenged.
                Suggesting on little evidence that the religion in question is Christianity is its own form of prejudice (and no, not a Christian defending my own) and plays into this problem.

                Legally, religious expression is protected, but in all the cases so far where someone has argued that their religious principles mean they can be homophobic etc, they have lost.

              2. Jessica*

                Fascinating, because at least in the US, even if a minority religion is homophobic, adherents generally don’t talk about it at work because, unlike Christians, it’s not safe for them to do so, so it’d be very rare for, say, a homophobic Jew or Muslim to say *anything* to a gay coworker about it.

                But as a member of the largest branch of American Judaism, which is explicitly queer-affirming, I’ve certainly had ex-Christians *tell* me they’re justified in saying I shouldn’t show any signs of Jewishness because *they believe* my culture is homophobic.

              3. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

                {Some of us talk about “religion” because we’re thinking of a couple different religions, not because we forgot the word “Christianity”.}

                Yes, and some of us also say “religion” instead of Christianity because we know that not all flavors of Christianity feature either aggressive proselytizing or homophobic bigotry. The denominations that do feature those things just attract a lot more attention than the opening and accepting ones.

                I don’t belong to any Christian church at this point, but I hate seeing them all tarred with the same brush because I know how much variation there is.

            4. Brain the Brian*

              I specifically did *not* say Christian in my reply because the baked-in homophobia at my employer stems not from Christianity but from the fact that a majority of our offices are located in *non-Christian* countries where LGBTQ+ people’s very existence is outlawed. My office is not among those, but the nature of our work means that cultural attitudes common to those countries pervade the entire company.

          3. Kella*

            This approach simply removes one form of bigotry and replaces it with another. Bigotry especially against religions that are in the cultural minority is still bigotry, and frequently overlaps with racism.

          4. Ellis Bell*

            While religion certainly should not dominate, or impose on a workplace; I think like a lot of important rules you can’t apply that guideline without nuance or common sense.

          5. Anon Y Mouse*

            I work for an actual religious organisation, and we are not allowed to discriminate in this way – whether among staff or to our clients. We don’t insist that any but the most senior staff are members of the religion, either. There’s extensive training on respecting others’ lifestyles. I’m not suggesting we are perfect but if we can bake this in from induction onwards… I’d hope any organisation can.

    2. ThatGirl*

      Agree, and I also think the LW should both do some soul-searching and work to leave herself, because this place sounds miserable and exhausting.

      1. ScruffyInternHerder*

        Agree. Were I the LW, I’d make sure that Darren had all of my support in finding a new venture…and I’d then look for my own exit strategy.

    3. Peanut Hamper*

      Yes, this. Darren’s best option is to leave and put all of this behind him. LW can help undo some of the wrongs Darren has experienced by being a stellar recommendation for him.

    4. Observer*

      LW should tell Darren very cleary that if he decides to leave they’ll give him a sterling personal/professional recommendation – regardless of whether the company policy discourages this sort of thing.


  4. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

    I think an apology to Darren should be your first step toward recognizing and correcting your own attitudes toward homophobic behavior. This is an opportunity for you to learn and become a better person.

    You might also make it a point to observe and examine whether this organization is truly welcoming to people of color, people with disabilities, and women. You can’t change the organization by yourself, but you can be a voice for people who aren’t being heard, and you can also examine whether this organization is the best place for you based on what you truly value.

    1. ferrina*

      And don’t hide or defend it from your team. At Old Job, the CEO was sexist and covertly racist (example: a white male engineer and black female engineer with similar credentials are offered the same job, since there was multiple openings. Both candidates negotiate for more money. The white male is immediately granted approval for the compensation increase, since “he’s got tremendous potential”. The black female’s counter is seen by the CEO as “aggressive” and “presumptuous” and “why would she deserve that kind of money?” He wanted to rescind the job offer- thankfully, another manager stepped in and was able to get the candidate what she asked for. The CEO had a long history of judging men on “potential” and women on….um, well, nothing, since even women with proven results weren’t given any kind of opportunities). He seemed like a nice guy, but it quickly became clear that only white men were treated fairly. (no clue for his stance homophobia- we didn’t have anyone out at that office, which probably speaks for itself)

      My team was the most diverse team in the company. I never tried to defend the CEO- that would be an insult to their intelligence and my integrity. Instead, I acknowledged what he was doing, pushed back when I could, and acknowledged when I couldn’t. Everyone in the company knew where I stood, because I didn’t wait for an issue to say something. I would proactively talk about how diversity played into the work we did, and how we could make our product more inclusive. Internally, I played heavy-duty politics to get my team opportunities. I told them what kind of situations they were getting into, and let them decide if it was worth it. Because I was transparent about the situation, they were able to make informed decisions and we built a lot of trust. I shielded them from sexism/racism as much as I could, but I never shielded them from the truth.

      The karma is that when I left the company (after a few years of empty promises and “we’ll do better, but the timing just wasn’t right”), almost all of my team followed. 80% attrition in that department within a year.

    2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Yes, an apology to Darren is a good call. Though don’t expect or insist on forgiveness. It’s about acknowledging that you know a) the situation is bad for Darren, b) the ways that you’ve fallen short, and c) that it’s totally reasonable for Darren to be angry about all of it.

      Asking Darren what he wants – up to and including support to leave – is key. We can speculate all day about what the right thing to do is. But the best person to know what’s best for Darren is Darren. You wouldn’t want to do something that seemed like a good idea, but actually made things worse for him.

      Based on the letter, it sounds like Darren does want the record to be set straight about the complaint, so do what you can on that one, ideally with Alan’s manager. It’s not exactly what Darren wants – it’s not coming from senior leadership – but it’s something and it’s within your power and authority to do.

  5. Madame X*

    Poor Darren, but I’m afraid his only option would be to leave your organization because it is so homophobic and management is so terrible. The bigotry in your organization seems to be embedded within the culture, which is very difficult for any one individual to change, especially when the leaders of this organization are resistant to any criticism. I think the best thing you can do for Darren is to provide him an excellent reference when he decides to leave.

  6. The Dude Abides*

    For the UK-based readers, I have a question:

    If Darren lawyered up and presented receipts to prove a discrimination claim, what is the potential fallout for the organization leadership?

    I think the potential liability for senior leadership and the organization would have a significant impact on whether the LW should stick around.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I’m very curious about this too. In the US this would be a hostile work environment (the real legal kind). I’d be interested to know if there’s anything similar at play here that might give Darren legal recourse, especially if he’s worried his reputation has been harmed.

      1. Yorkshire Tea Pot*

        I think if he resigned, there would a decent chance that a constructive dismissal claim could be made. However, with claims now needing a chunky fee up-front, and charity salaries being what they are, this may not be an avenue open to Darren.

        1. Kaye*

          I’d never advise somebody to resign if they didn’t have a plan B – constructive dismissal is very, very difficult to win. An employment tribunal might well be a good route, though.

          1. Snow Globe*

            I would think if the LW supported the claim, that would be a big point in his favor. If LW would be willing to do that, they should let him know.

            1. The Dude Abides*

              The issue here then becomes the LW risks retaliation from the employer, and now has to face a similar tune, if not the same music re: cost of retaining counsel.

              Not saying it’s right, but I also think the golden rule of the modern age is “he who has the gold, makes the rules.”

        2. ceiswyn*

          Also, the courts are currently clogged up to heck. Someone I know ended up taking a so-so settlement on a discrimination case her solicitors agreed was watertight; because it would have taken at least a year for it to actually get heard.
          So there are definitely laws against this sort of thing, but in practice that might not be a viable avenue for Darren.

      2. TechWorker*

        I think there would be. You’re definitely protected from harassment at work on the grounds of sexual orientation. Citizens advice is a good U.K. source that walks through whether there is a possible legal claim.

      3. Sloanicota*

        I wondered what the UK rules around religious stuff were. There are some situations I’m aware of here where not-great things have been given a pass if the offender claims religious protection (I believe the org could have done more, but felt there was no point trying).

        1. Kaye*

          Religion and belief is a protected characteristic under the EA2010, same as sexual orientation. No protected characteristic is meant to override another one. And, as we’ve seen, they did eventually put a stop to it in Alan’s case.

          1. Yes And*

            There’s a saying: Your right to swing your fist stops at the bridge of my nose.

            As a literal description of the boundaries of physical space, it leaves a lot to be desired. But as a metaphor for the idea that nobody is entitled to exercise their rights in a way that harms others, I think it’s evocative and useful.

            I hope you would agree that Alan is the aggressor here in that regard.

            1. ferrina*

              That’s a great saying.

              I definitely agree that Alan is the aggressor. Terry Pratchett has a great line in Small Gods that “we believe in free speech, and we also believe in free listening. And to be fair, the crowd only threw stones when they ran out of vegetables.”
              OP, if you’re looking for a role model of how to behave in a weird, unwieldy situation, Small Gods is a delightful read.

              1. Snoozing not schmoozing*

                it’s amazing that the best book on religion is a fantasy novel, set in a distant multiverse, and written by an atheist.

    2. Any old username*

      i would hope that Darren could resign and then sue for constructive dismissal. The workplace is clearly a hostile work environment for him and it doesn’t sound like that will change in the future due to the management team.

    3. MsJayTee*

      As far as I can see there are breaches of the Equality Act left, right and centre. But Darren would have to be willing to take legal action.

      There’s also whether legal action would be affordable.

      If I was Darren’s shoes I’d join a Union. If they support you taking legal action, they also pay for your solicitor.

      1. UKDancer*

        This so much. I’d recommend both the OP and Darren join a union. It can help and they can be really good. If you’re not sure which is the right one for your industry / sector try the TUC website for a start.

        1. Neurodivergent in Germany*

          Thirding this!
          Unions are a great help here.
          At least here, their legal protection kicks in right away and the legal insurance fee is part of the membership dues anyway. If you take out private insurance, it won’t kick in for a year or so.
          Also, unions will probably have legal counseling services to determine what exactly Darren’s rights are and what course of action is in his best interest.
          From personal experience, being able to have a large group of people and someone who knows what they are doing is so comforting when you face any kind of legal dispute.

    4. Healthcare Manager*

      I work in the UK in a large organisation that connections to lots of other organisations (including third sector) which sounds related to what LW is talking about. I’m very familiar with scenarios like LW has described, I’ve also left workplaces after the 7th battle too.

      To be very blunt, nothing would happen. There are lots of fantastic laws and very little is able to be done to enforce what they say.

      1. laser99*

        We have the same issue here in the United States. I’ve always considered it the worst issue regarding employment, because even though there are laws and rules for everything imaginable, enforcement is laughable.

    5. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      In the UK, hate speech – racist, homophobic etc – is a criminal offence, not just a civil law matter.
      So fallout could be very serious indeed.

      e.g. summary from Wiki:
      “Any communication which is threatening or abusive, and is intended to harass, alarm, or distress someone is forbidden.
      The penalties for hate speech include fines, imprisonment, or both. The Police and CPS [Crown Prosecution Service] have formulated a definition of hate crimes and hate incidents, with hate speech forming a subset of these”

      Repeated homophobic remarks would count as harassment and if Darren wanted to quit this job, likely constructive dismissal.
      So he could receive financial compensation.

      Citizens Advice Bureau state:
      “If you quit because of discrimination at work, you might be able to claim constructive dismissal.”

      Darren should consult his union rep if he is a member, or an employment solicitor, to check his options.

      1. Master Procrastinator*

        It seems like constructive dismissal is tricky but he’d surely have a strong case for a discrimination claim at an employment tribunal (which as far as I understand, would have to at least be heard). I’m by no means an expert but have had a little experience of the process.

        And I’ve worked in some chaotic UK third sector orgs but this place is clearly off the toxicity scale! I’m curious about whether the organisation’s Board is equally defensive and badly run – if not, escalating a complaint straight to the Chair might be a good move. Not that I’d expect this to change things for Darren or OP directly, but someone needs to deliver some home truths to the people with whom the buck stops… even if only to warn them that they run the risk of legal and reputational disaster by failing to protect their workforce from harassment and discrimination. A major part of the Board’s job is to manage risk and this should worry them. I agree that Darren and OP need to get out of this organisation, and that it’d be good for OP to support Darren to do whatever he needs to do.

        1. SarahKay*

          It might also be worth looking at the Data Protection Act with regards to the gossip from HR/management, depending on what was said.
          The legislation replaced GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation, which is the EU legislation) and has serious legal teeth, and it sounds like this company could easily be in breach,

    6. bamcheeks*

      Darren would almost certainly have a claim under the Equality Act, and it would definitely be easier if there is any written evidence of the homophobia (emails from Alan, emails from Darren to Alan, emails between LW and the senior management, notes or minutes from the meetings with senior management where this was discussed.)

      However, the Conservative government made it much harder than it used to be for people to go to employment tribunal. It’s both expensive and draining to take a company to tribunal or court, even where there is a very clear breach.

      LW’s work is almost certainly registered and monitored by somebody like the Care Quality Commission or an equivalent smaller body. and LW could consider a whistle-blowing report to them too. Because there is every chance that the homophobic comments are being made to their service users who are queer, trans or non-gender-conforming, and that would also be a significant breach of the Equality Act.

      1. Editor Emeritus*

        The expense is not as great as it was. If someone chooses to hire a lawyer, or needs to pay expert witnesses, there are associated costs for that, but tribunal fees were abolished after a supreme court ruling in 2017. Draining, for sure.

        1. There's a G&T with my name on it*

          Not to mention how backed up the courts are and how long it could take before even being heard..

      2. Ses*

        Unfortunately, Alan might also be able to claim that his belief that being gay is wrong is protected under the Equality Act – Maya Forstater managed to win a similar case regarding her anti-trans beliefs.

        1. BuildMeUp*

          I believe that case found that while the beliefs themselves are protected, harassment on the basis of them is not. So Alan’s comments/harassment would not be protected.

        2. Lellow*

          She absolutely didn’t win her case on those grounds – this is a common misconception being pushed by TERFs. What she actually won on was that her employer didn’t follow their own procedures correctly, and they documented themselves not following them.

        3. Twix*

          The Maya Forstater case is a widely misunderstood and misrepresented one. The tribunal ruled that her “gender-critical” beliefs were, in and of themselves, legally protected under the Equality Act. (Although this was highly controversial – the initial ruling found that it failed to satisfy the 5th prong of Grainger – being “worthy of respect in a democratic society”.) They also very explicitly ruled that her beliefs being protected did not mean that she was exempt from the Equality Act’s prohibitions against discrimination and harassment as they pertain to trans people. At the Full Merits Hearing that ultimately ruled in her favor, the gist of the decision was that because her statements being the reason for not renewing her contract was not in dispute and employer had not followed any disciplinary process prior to not renewing her contract, they had discriminated against her on the basis of her beliefs in and of themselves regardless of whether she had previously acted in a harassing or discriminatory way.

          While I personally don’t believe homophobia is a belief worthy of respect in a democratic society, it’s pretty much a given that Alan’s beliefs are protected. But that does not extend to a right to harass others based on them.

    7. Another Darren*

      The LW needs to leave regardless of liability issues. Because they were complicit in allowing this toxic environment to cause real harm to someone and I don’t think that is the person LW wants to be.

  7. CM*

    This is a fantastic answer.

    I wonder, too, whether the OP has any power to individually push back on a culture that tolerates bigotry? Whether Darren ends up staying or not, sometimes if one person — particularly on a management level — is willing to say out loud, “That’s not appropriate,” or “Comments like that are disrespectful,” it can make a difference to the culture of the organization. Other people will hear and may feel empowered to speak up themselves, or at least will know that not everybody thinks the same way.

    1. Venus*

      If I had the capital to spend I would be tempted to say to senior leadership that the place will fall apart without Darren, so maybe they can think hard about the fact that they don’t speak up around homophobic comments, and should strongly consider apologizing and doing things differently in future.

      I wouldn’t try this except that Darren is so critical to their workplace and I would want them to really understand that their inability to apologize is losing them a critical worker. It would be the last thing I tried before I found a better job.

      I hope that Darren is actively looking for a better job elsewhere. I think it’s the only reasonable and rational option.

      1. deesse877*

        For serious, this is not a good way to look at it. You’re trying to point out that Darren is valuable in his role, and that’s usually important. But I think it’s equally or maybe more likely that Darren is good at his job **as a defense against this sort of thing.** The over-achieving is a strategy for meeting bigotry, not just personal merit.

        And quite frankly, plenty of bigots know that this is a thing and cultivate it. Some genuinely enjoy putting the squeeze on someone they consider less-than, and the highly feminized, organizational and soft-skills work that Darren is described as doing well is exactly the sort of thing that can be extracted from someone who feels their place is insecure.

        In other words, you might not be telling them something they don’t know if you warned senior leadership that they were losing someone great due to homophobia. They might know. They might look on it as, not excellence, but the delicious fruits of their own bullying.

        All the more reason for Darren to RUN.

        1. Venus*

          I would agree except that the LW has clearly been told something they didn’t already know, and there is a small chance that senior managers could have the same reaction. It’s very unlikely, but if the dynamics are right then it could be an option.

          Oh, and I definitely wouldn’t suggest it except that Darren has said that he wants it.
          “He does want the gossip and rumors shut down, retracted, and apologized for but by people higher up the ladder than me.”
          I wouldn’t have suggested it otherwise.

      2. DataSci*

        That ship has sailed. If the place is going to fall apart without Darren, let it fall apart. Even if he got an apology, the undercurrents, chaos, and hostile people are still there even if they’re quiet about it.

      3. *kalypso*

        Yeah, no; it risks coming across as ‘be nice to his face because he’s good at his job’ and justifying the behaviour for anyone who isn’t a perfect superstar, in private, in front of clients, just not in front of Darren – and that will make the environment worse for Darren, not change anything for anyone who isn’t out or sufficiently perfect, and will 100% be twisted into ‘I have permission as long as it’s not this particular circumstance’.

    2. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

      I would say, first, push hard for the HR person who leaked to be fired. It is absolutely inconceivable that an HR person would disclose an investigation, AND the fact that they disclosed Darren’s but not Alan’s shows bias.

      Secondly, because the rumors are about an HR investigation, I would ask the most senior person communicate to the whole office that Darren was .
      completely cleared of any wrongdoing by HR (assuming Darren is on board with that which I believe he would be).
      I don’t know that any of the above would work, but LW could try.

  8. Kaye*

    I’d *like* to say that mentioning the Equality Act 2010 to those higher up the chain would help here (OK, the harassment from Alan has been stopped, but it sounds like there’s plenty more of it elsewhere), but from what you say it’s going to be like turning the proverbial oil tanker. If I were Darren’s friend I’d certainly be advising him to get out.

    A relevant page from ACAS to follow in the next comment.

  9. insert pun here*

    For those who aren’t familiar with the term “third sector organization,” it appears to be pretty much the same as “non-profit” in the US (link in reply.)

    1. Observer*

      Third sector is also occasionally used in the US also, although I think it’s more common in Academic writing.

    2. BubbleTea*

      It includes more than just charities, and often is applied to outsourced local government services too.

  10. SleepyWolverine*

    I wish Darren could sue the pants off the company before leaving. I wish I could have done the same when I got fired for no reason two days after my boss asked me for the millionth time if I was gay and I was too tired to lie about it anymore. These companies deserve to be ground to dust.

    1. Tree*

      I’m sorry they did that to you. I hope you landed in a much better organization, working with better people.

  11. urguncle*

    Honestly, nothing but empathy for Darren especially and OP. This place and these people sound absolutely exhausting to work around. I hope you both find a place that is less awful on every level.

  12. Escapee from Corporate Management*

    OP, besides urging Darren to leave, I suggest you also consider leaving this organization. It does not conform with your own views and you felt forced (beaten down?) enough to keep silent in the face of awful behavior by your superiors towards a great employee. Alison often points out that it’s hard to see the toxicity in your organization until you leave it. This episode with Darren has exposed to you this organization’s dysfunction; I hope you use that knowledge to find an employer that acts in ways that fit your own beliefs.

    1. MissMeghan*

      I would suggest OP think hard about this as well. Look at how much working there has already changed how you handled homophobia. What other habits/behaviors are getting molded by this environment, and how successful could you be at pushing against it? I can see you’re beating yourself up for how you handled things, so this is an important moment for you as well as Darren.

  13. Three Flowers*

    LW, Alison’s advice is of course great, but make sure you go in this order:

    1) Apologize to Darren for your inaction
    2) assure him you are shutting down rumors and do it
    3) Ask what would help him
    4) Let him know that you will do whatever you can to support him making a decision that benefits him if he chooses to leave

    Don’t lead with “I support you if you choose to leave,” as he may read that as “I think you should leave because that’s better than trying to clean up this mess.” Even if the mess isn’t clean-able and he would be happier elsewhere, he doesn’t need to feel like you’re pushing him out as the solution to the problem.

    Also, you might consider whether this workplace is healthy for you. If it’s conditioned you to accept blatant homophobia and crappy treatment from higher-ups, perhaps you should also look for a place that normalizes a supportive, professional work environment instead of whatever this morass is.

    1. Happy*

      Yeah, I think LW should be careful in their wording when they say that they will support Darren if he wants to leave – in Darren’s shoes, it would be easy for me to read that as my manager either throwing up their hands or actively trying to push me out.

      1. HonorBox*

        Absolutely! This is really important. There are already things Darren is going to (rightfully) be taking with a grain of salt or reading into because of the history here.

    2. Sloanicota*

      I’m trying to think of what specific, actionable advice we could offer OP to shut down rumors, which are by nature kind of hard to get to. If I were OP I’d like to demonstrate to Darren in concrete ways what I am doing, besides just resolving to talk to offenders one-on-one or step in if I hear something, which seem a bit murky. Some examples might be, make Darren employee of the month or thank him publicly in a big meeting or something – to demonstrate that Darren is not “in trouble” with the org – schedule a mediation with gossipers and let Darren know you’ve done this (I know nothing about what that would look like) – any other ideas …?

      1. Warrior Princess Xena*

        I’d suggest a focus on making sure Darren doesn’t get deliberately or accidentally penalized during bonuses, raises, projects etc. IE, if there’s a project Darren would like to be on and Alan is already on it, don’t exclude Darren to keep him out of the project and instead move Alan.

        1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

          I’d be super careful here because I don’t think it will help Darren if Alan suddenly gets booted from things he is already on because Darren wants to do that project. People will notice and I think it won’t help with the gossip, which is something Darren has expressly stated he wants resolved. I think there are ways to reconfigure projects and tasks to minimize any interaction between the parties without it turning into “Alan got kicked off Project X because Darren wanted to be on Project X now. “

    3. A Person*

      Agreed on all of the above. The most recent time I mentioned someone going elsewhere (in the context of someone’s role changing due to org changes) I basically said:

      Option 1: something something in the org
      Option 2: something else in the org
      Option 3: “I really appreciate all the work you’ve done and you’re super valuable to me and the company. I don’t want you to leave! That said, I understand if you decide you don’t want to pursue these other options. In that case I’ll be happy to give you a strong recommendation if you choose to look outside our company.”

      I thought it would be the strongest to just literally tell the person I don’t want them to leave (because it was true) and I think it was appreciated.

    4. Chilipepper Attitude*

      Maybe add to Three Flower’s list:
      5) I am job hunting as a result of this.

  14. noah fence*

    i agree that its important for lw to express to darren that they will support him leaving if he wants. however (despite the likelihood that darren already wants to get out), in their place i would be very careful about the wording and tone of that message, so as to avoid sounding… well, “coercive” might be a little strong, but knowing lw is trying to show their compassion, you really want that to come off sincere. also (not a lawyer) i can see that the wrong implication could be legally messy, in re: discrimination. i definitely would endorse the addendum posted by the commenter “chairman” that lw promises to give darren a stellar reference.

    this company sucks. i hope they both find something better. commenter “thin mints” makes excellent points about introspection for lw.

    1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      I agree with you. Saying things like, “I would support you finding a new job,” could sound like they’re fixing the organization’s problem by getting rid of the victim. A great big “go away.”

      Scolding Alan is not really a resolution; a write up in his file is barely even a slap on the wrist…does it actually have consequences to his employment — withhold a pay increase, prevent him from any promotion, or remove any chance of bonuses? Or is there just a piece of paper with metaphorically a big frowny-face in his file. This is all sound and fury signifying nothing.

  15. badger*

    One tactic that has occasionally worked for me in pushing back gently without ruffling too many feathers, at least not too obviously, is to simply act as if I don’t understand the bigoted comment or joke. With jokes, it’s a little easier to look confused and say “I don’t get the joke.” With non-joke comments, “what does that mean?” sometimes works.

    This doesn’t work in all contexts; you have to judge the audience, and if you’ve fought non-stop battles that day already sometimes even this is too much. But sometimes it’s enough to embarrass the person making the comment enough that they stop.

    1. HCTZ*

      Thanks for this tactic, I love it. I’ll be using it in the future if the situation ever calls for it.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      I’ve done this a few times to advantage, too: “I don’t get it. Could you explain it?” Putting people on the spot takes the fun out of it for them.

      1. Fishsticks*

        Yep, I’ve done it, too. “I’m sorry, what’s the punchline here?” Forcing someone to elaborate that the joke is funny because hahaha women amIright usually also forces them to acknowledge it’s a crappy attempt at humor. You get a reputation for “not being able to take a joke” but you also get to stop hearing those jokes, so. I’m fine with that outcome.

    3. LilPinkSock*

      I tried that once, and the “joke” teller actually laid out for me in detail exactly why I was supposed to laugh at something eye-wateringly hateful.

        1. LilPinkSock*

          Did that, and the answer was “You need to learn how to laugh. It’s not complicated.” And yes, she told me to “smile more because donors like to see happy girls at the front desk”.

          Since it was my boss, who I have described above, I chose not to engage in her hatred any more.

          1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

            I give you so much credit for not snapping back. I feel like I would have responded with “Oh, see I think the problem is usually people who make jokes are funny. Some people just can’t pull it off, I guess.”

          2. boof*

            I guess the only thing to do then is say “oh, no thank you” and move on (or rage quit I guess if that’s an option)

          3. allathian*

            Oof, I’m sorry. I do hope this *hateful* person is a former boss and that you’ve found a much better job somewhere else (shouldn’t be hard given the low bar she set).

      1. I should really pick a name*

        That can actually be useful.
        It makes sure onlookers know exactly who they’re dealing with.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        When someone did this with me I just kept asking for more explanation until they got bored/frustrated and gave up.

    4. LadyByTheLake*

      I agree! When it’s phrased as a joke I say “I don’t get it, explain it to me.” I have to say I enjoy the embarrassed silence that follows.

    5. Shorty Spice*

      I use this to excellent effect at a dinner party where the host made a transphobic “joke” of the “identifies as…” variety. His jokes are all pretty immature but that one was offensive.

      It was awkward and I just let it be awkward while I shook my head in faux confusion about what the joke was about.

    6. Mf*

      The other thing that’s worked for me is simply asking the other person to refrain from hurtful comments. “I would appreciate it if you’d avoid saying things like that about gay people when I’m around.”

      It registers your disagreement but in a way that’s couched in courtesy.

    7. cardigarden*

      I think this has become something of a YMMV thing. The last person I tried this on came back with “If you don’t already get it, you won’t so I’m not gonna waste my time” (with very obvious “you’re not in my in-group if you’re asking” subtext).

      1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

        Yes, the response to playing dumb is more often than not, the person declaring you dumb — not having a moment of self-awareness. I understand the impulse to “not ruffle feathers” from a personal safety standpoint, but as Alison pointed out here “it’s important to look at it head-on and see that you were prioritizing comfort and harmony for bigots over the safety and well-being of others,” the only person who benefits from not getting their feathers ruffled is the offender, and they deserve to be ruffled.

    8. FrivYeti*

      I’d agree if this was a milder case, but with OP’s company we’re at the point where people are directly saying “I don’t agree with your gay lifestyle and would like to give you literature about how my religion will convert you to being straight” in front of management, who ignored the situation until forced to interact with it (at which point they did the absolute bare minimum and hoped that would let them off the hook.)

      There’s not really any room for a misunderstanding or fake-joke there. It’s just straight-up, extremely direct harassment. If you say “I don’t understand”, they’re absolutely going to double down.

      1. badger*

        I agree in the context of LW’s company, and as I said, you have to judge the audience because it isn’t always going to work and it isn’t always the right response anyway. At this point, I have the capital at work and in most of my volunteer activities to actively push back. But I definitely used it this way at my last job with a boss who actively discounted anything I had to say otherwise. And I use it with narcissist relatives who don’t like having to explain themselves but can’t quite figure out whether I’m actually disagreeing with them.

        Keep in mind I am also in the Upper Midwest in the US (not from here originally but have lived here WAY too long), and “Midwestern Nice” is a particular brand of passive-aggressive that is very much a cultural thing and sometimes the only way you can play it with some folks. My preference would be “that’s not appropriate” or even just “hey, can you not,” but if that won’t work, sometimes this tactic does. Just another tool in the arsenal.

    9. Another Darren*

      “that’s not appropriate” has no ambiguity and has taken me a long way. Simple and direct.

    10. Mel*

      I like this as a general rule, but to be blunt if you’re a manager you shouldn’t be this toothless. “That’s not an appropriate/professional/acceptable thing to say here” is where it needs to be. Anything less is a disservice to the people you’re trying to protect. At managerial level you need to actually call out and stamp out bigotry, not just make the bigot feel briefly embarrassed.

      1. Another Darren*

        Beautifully said. You gotta be direct especially if you’re in a leadership position.

        If that sounds hard then practice in the mirror.

      2. badger*


        (not currently a manager myself, but agree that this has a time and place and audience and is not the right tool for every job.)

      3. SofiaDeo*

        This. One doesn’t say it angrily, just firmly. And immediately switch the topic, to lessen the chance for backtalk/argument.

    11. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      I like this tactic generally, though I don’t know if it would work here. Some groups are extremely open about their hatred of other groups. This tactic is supposed to get people to feel ashamed by forcing them to say the quiet part loud. But some people are very willing to say the quiet part with their whole chests. And unless the LW wants to push back on whatever horrifying thing might come out of the person’s mouth, she’s just subjected Darren to more awfulness than would otherwise have happened.

      So good tactic generally, but use with some caution!

    12. JM60*

      One thing I like about this tactic is that it leaves the door open the possibility that what they said might have been genuinely misunderstood, and not actually racist/homophobic/transphobic/sexist/whatever. If what they said wasn’t [fill-in-the-bank]-ist, this gives them the opportunity to explain. IMO, that’s a good thing, as here sometimes are misunderstandings.

      On the other hand, this usually also serves the same purpose of calling them out if what they said really was [fill-in-the-bank]-ist.

  16. LadyByTheLake*

    To call out offensive comments in the moment I find that it is best to say “Wait, what? I don’t think I heard that right, what did you say?” That usually forces the speaker to back down and apologize immediately. If they don’t immediately back down and have the audacity to own the comment, I usually respond with “wow, that’s really inappropriate” and then I report the comment to HR. I find that once I speak up others will chime in in support.

    1. Katie*

      I don’t pretend to misunderstand. When offensive comments fly I inform the offender my son is gay and their comment is highly offensive. I then say nothing. Let them own their own words.

    2. A Poster Has No Name*

      I think this is a great technique when you’ve got one bigot among mostly non-bigots. Unfortunately, this sounds like a situation with more bigots than not, so I think this might just invite them explaining in excruciating detail and others cheering them on.

      1. LadyByTheLake*

        If they double down and explain their offensive comment I just say “wow, I’m surprised you actually are owning that position. It’s not appropriate and I fully expect that you will never say anything like that again at work.” (said in a cold tone of voice). I’ve never had anyone argue further after that.

    3. Guncle T*

      So Alan has been told he’s out of line and needs to stop. Is *Darren* privy to that information? Because he deserves to know that, and it kinda sounds like OP’s organization may incline towards keeping that disciplinary action quiet “so as not to embarrass anyone.”

      Frankly, I think that it wouldn’t be at all a bad thing if the rumors about Darren being investigated were quashed by very openly stating that it was part of some religiously-motivated harrassment, and that that’s Not Okay. And if that ends up being linked back to Alan and he’s embarrassed by that, too bad for him…

      1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        Good question. I assumed that Darren knew this, but it’s not totally clear.

    4. Anonosaurus*

      I have also found success with “I hope you’re not saying that because you assume I share your views” – some of these comments are made because the other person assumes that I will share their worldview because I’m also white, middle class professional and able bodied etc, and we don’t, and I don’t want it to be assumed by them or third parties that we do.

  17. Peanut Hamper*

    Seconding Alison’s advice that LW might want to move on herself. This workplace sounds toxic and poorly managed, and someone who is this self-reflective will probably do better elsewhere.

  18. Empress Matilda*

    Whew, what a mess. OP, it sounds like you’ve done a lot of soul-searching to recognize your own part in it, which is a great start! Honestly, I don’t think there’s any way of solving the problem – it sounds like the culture is pretty deeply ingrained there, regardless of what happens next. I think the best you can do now is apologize to Darren, start speaking up in the moment, and do your best to get yourself and Darren out of there.

    Good luck to both of you!

  19. Katie*

    My son is gay. The amount of open homophobia and hatred in the world is astounding. Darren was used as a punching bag in clear view and nothing was done. Silence in the face of it is almost just as bad. At least OP eventually had the courage to speak up. I hope Darren sues this company and wins. May their eyes be forced open.

  20. Jolie*

    Hi, can you please pass this on to Darren in case it helps?I work for a UK charity giving free legal advice on worker’s rights we’re called Work Rights Centre. If he emails us we may be able to help.

    As well as legal advice of the “can you sue?” variety we also give employability mentoring which could help him find a less toxic or homophobic employer.

    1. ILoveLlamas*

      I was thinking about non-profit advocacy groups that perhaps could help Darren understand his legal rights. This is such a horrible situation. My heart goes out to Darren and also, OP, who is having to face the ramifications of her actions. I think this letter is a reminder all of us to speak up and advocate for others in these types of situations.

  21. L. Bennett*

    Totally agree with Alison’s advice. Just have a question about this bit:
    “(c) tell him you’ll support him in whatever he needs, including helping him leave if he wants to. ”

    Is it possible that offering to help an employee leave a company could be interpreted as forcing them out? I’ve wondered that in various other scenarios where an employee has been upset about company culture, etc. and whether these kinds of offers or advice to leave might be misconstrued and make the discriminatory behavior look even worse?

    1. emeemay*

      as a queer woman, if I were in this situation, I’d already be looking for an out – my boss bluntly offering assistance in escaping would be welcome.

      if I didn’t intend to leave, the offer would still be a clear sign of my boss advocating out loud (putting their money where their mouth is) and having my back. whether they really did would depend on their further behavior, obviously, but it would have meaning.

      1. MsM*

        I also think if LW does plan on job hunting themselves, that might be information they should consider making Darren aware of if him staying is predicated on OP being there to be a supportive influence.

    2. Sloanicota*

      I think there’s a way to do this well that won’t seem like OP is trying to push Darren out on top of everything else. I’m trying to think what this script might look like. “I think you know how essential to the organization I find you; I would love to find a way to make this workplace comfortable for you, and I plan to start with W and Y concrete things. But, I also understand you may have lost faith in the leadership here, and I understand that too. I want you know I’ll also support you in Y and Z ways (where those things might be offering strong recommendations, help networking, letter of support – whatever that might look like in this context).

    3. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

      Helping an employee wouldn’t be seen as forcing an employee out. In this case the OP has to take Darren’s lead. If he asks for help or for a reference, giving him contacts, sending info about jobs, and giving him a glowing reference is not pushing him out. The only way it could be considered pushing him out would be if the OP kept sending him countless job ads. And even then I don’t think it would be pushing him out exactly. I could be wrong but usually pushing someone out is when you either cut their work or their hours so much that they have no choice but to leave, or do something else to make them leave.

      1. Sloanicota*

        I could imagine from Darren’s POV, if he wants to stay at the org for his own reasons, and his boss is suddenly all about him “moving on” and coming with ideas for that, he could get the wrong idea that the boss has found him to be too much trouble and wants him to leave on top of everything else :( But, I think OP can avoid coming across that way.

    4. boof*

      I think you have to 1) first say all that you can do to try to make the situation better / avoid further problems (ie; so and so has been told their behavior is not acceptable and has a note in their file, please tell me if they do it again; I apologize for not calling out comments in the past and will be more proactive about having your back when clients say something bigoted; I will do my best to shut down rumors; is there anything else you would like me to do) but also acknowledge the situation (I talked with the higher ups, and I’m not seeing a lot of evidence more widespread changes will be happening; I’ll try my best but I understand if you find something better and will give you a glowing reference if you need it)

  22. Polar Vortex*

    LW: Do you want to stay at this organization? I’m glad you’re trying to rectify now, but honestly the first thing I thought was that quote about “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph in the world is that good men do nothing”.

    But seriously, is this org right for you? Is do you want to work at a place that is homophobic like this?

    And maybe it’s worth looking into reading some books on how to actively be an ally in the workplace for your future peace of mind.

    1. Polar Vortex*

      Hit enter accidentally too soon!
      I don’t want to be hard on you because you’re already being hard on yourself. I also meant to share some books because I know a lot of people who want to be better allies (and lgbtq employees really want a manager who is an ally!) don’t know where or how to start.

      Allies at Work: Creating a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Inclusive Work Environment by David M. Hall
      The Savvy Ally: A Guide for Becoming a Skilled LGBTQ+ Advocate by Jeannie Gainsburg
      How to Be an Ally: Actions You Can Take for a Stronger, Happier Workplace by Melinda Briana Epler
      Demanding More: Why Diversity and Inclusion Don’t Happen and What You Can Do About It by Sheree Atcheson
      What if I Say the Wrong Thing?: 25 Habits for Culturally Effective People by Verna Myers
      Listen, We Need to Talk: How to Change Attitudes about LGBT Rights by Harrison & Michelson
      Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People by Banaji & Greenwald

      Podcasts if that’s your thing:
      Melinda Briana Epler Leading with Empathy and Allyship
      Jennifer Brown The Will to Change


  23. fine tipped pen aficionado*

    LW, I’m a queer person and I really appreciate your ability to reflect on yourself and take accountability for your own part in this. All my love and strength to Darren; Alison’s advice is spot on. You owe it to him to not try to keep him there and if he needs to stay for his own reasons, to fight the battles for him even when it’s hard.

    Darren probably understands how hard it is to do something that might provoke another fight after you’ve been beaten up by clients all day. I think we all understand that sometimes it’s easier to let the people who will take it without making a fuss just take it instead of doing what’s just and fair. I’m not sure if you realize how much some of us who seem affable and who don’t raise a fuss do that because we realize our identity puts us in an already precarious position and the results of standing up for ourselves could be financially, physically, or emotionally devastating.

    Take Alison’s advice. Help Darren get out and then you should follow him; you seem like a person who wants to do right but is in a situation that requires more than you can give to achieve it. While you’re there, it is your responsibility to try for the people you manage. But it isn’t your responsibility to stay.

    Love and strength to you and to Darren.

  24. Not Tom, Just Petty*

    Yeah, the fallout from the incident is rumors “about Darren being investigated, and a whole lot of increasingly dramatic rumors are now circling and Darren’s reputation has taken a hit.”
    Darren was targeted and bullied by a coworker. When he finally stood up for himself, he’s the one taking the hit?
    It doesn’t matter if the original aggressor, Alan? is taking a hit, too. It is all on Alan.
    Remember the letter where the Wiccan employee was provoked by Muslim coworkers and everyone who witnessed stated he 1) never said anything inappropriate; 2) was being provoked.
    This is not that. At all.
    Wish him well on his job cuz your place sucks and isn’t going change in his career time.

    1. goddessoftransitory*

      If Alan’s reputation takes a hit, it’s from him punching himself in the face.

  25. Momma Bear*

    I appreciate that the advice included helping Darren leave if he wants but I agree it needs to be carefully worded so he doesn’t feel fired. Maybe have a discussion about his career goals and whether or not those can be met at this office/role. His contributions to the company are obviously important but not important enough for a culture change or even basic respect. He can take his amazing skills anywhere else, so expect that he will. I think that at this point it’s not a matter of if he will leave but when. I’d bet hard cash that he’s looking. OP should plan for his exit.

    Aside from trying to make things right (or less wrong) for the employee, I agree that OP should take this as a wake up moment for herself. Is this really where she wants to be spending half her life? Is this healthy for her? From here it sounds like OP is overworked and knows the culture is bad. I think OP should consider an exit, too. Sexism or being afraid to speak up because of the Good Ol’ Boys Club, is often right behind things like homophobia and racism. I think Darren’s problems are the tip of a large iceberg.

  26. DomaneSL5*

    I honestly think Darren and you the LW just need to get out of there. Also while you sound very self aware of what has happened here, be prepared if Darren wants nothing to do you with you. Lastly know most workplaces are not like this, being where you are at has warped your sense of normal. Toxic places do that, warp your sense of normal.

  27. Chris*

    Skipping all the other comments for now…

    As a gay man, I can say I empathize completely with Darren. OP you didn’t handle it well from the outset. I can understand, I can even empathize, with why you went the way you did. But you did do it wrongly. So I echo, and I appreciate, what Allison said. With an extra echo on “get yourself out.” Start looking for a better work environment. You will find that a more welcoming, less bigoted work environment is better for yourself too. It will improve your own mental and physical well being and you deserve that as much as Darren does.

    And to Darren, I hope he finds a work place that sets him up for success well.

    As for this organization, I can only hope it folds under the weight of it’s bigotry and you both can dance a jaunty jig on the bones of it’s metaphorical corpse.

  28. emeemay*

    You owe Darren a sincere apology and an amazing reference, and I suggest that you start looking for a way to bounce too. Your workplace sounds freaking awful, and I hope they crash and burn, as I hope for all organizations with so much tolerance for bigotry.

    – a lady Darren

  29. DataSci*

    As a lesbian, I have to agree with Alison – there’s too much wrong with this organization (none of which is the LW’s fault, other than when she didn’t speak up against homophobia – anyone will tell you that silence in the face of others being bullied or harassed is implicit consent, and deciding that homophobia is preferable to drama was her decision that she needs to own) for Darren or any LGBTQ+ people (or, frankly, anyone supporting them) to feel comfortable there. I hope Darren’s able to leave on his own terms and with good references, but the situation just isn’t salvageable for him.

  30. learnedthehardway*

    Is there HR at the organization that the OP can talk to about how to promote a more inclusive workplace? If not, can the OP contact some diversity / equity organizations and get some information from them?

    DE&I has to start somewhere. It doesn’t look like it is going to start from the top, but the OP can do something from the middle to at least get the ball rolling.

  31. KatEnigma*

    Here is the real answer you need LW- figure out how to keep the place from going into chaos WHEN (not if) Darren leaves. Figure out everything he does, and train people to do what he do it, to the best of your ability. Starting now. It will be too late to start when he gives notice.

    1. DataSci*

      Or don’t. LW, if you decide you want out too, you owe this place nothing. Let it crash and burn if that’s the way you want to go.

    2. Feral Humanist*

      Better yet, IMO, *don’t* do that so that everyone can feel the natural consequences of their actions. LW is better served putting their energy into getting out themselves.

      Seriously, these people don’t deserve to be protected from the fallout.

    3. Another Darren*

      That’s advising more complicity. So no one sees the results of the organizations bigotry and failure to act to protect its employees. Let it fall apart. Let everyone feel the consequences of driving away a great employee

  32. Properlike*

    Good for you for reaching out, OP! Realizing we’ve done wrong and taking actionable steps to do better is how all of us should operate. I know this from experience.

    I hope you also find a new job, and quickly.

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      This. The LW has made some bad (though understandable) decisions. In the letter, she starts off by fully acknowledging that she has made mistakes. It’s an important step in learning better so she can do better.

  33. American in the UK*

    I feel for the LW and Darren. This letter feels so English because it’s generally a person responding to bigotry that is in the wrong. Everything would be fine if we all just took it on the nose. Allison’s advice is spot on but this sadly occurs constantly.

  34. JustMe*

    Admittedly I’m in the US and not as familiar with the UK context but…would it be possible to bring in office anti-bias training and to create a policy that the organization will require all partners to have statements and policies around nondiscrimination? It may be too late to save Darren, but this could be a good impetus to do some organizational soul searching to institute more equity, diversity, and inclusion practices so there are no similar practices going forward.

    1. Observer*

      I don’t care where you are. If your leadership acts the way the OP describes their leadership, it’s not going to happen. Even if there is a formal official statement, it’s going to be worth less than the paper it’s on.

      1. metadata minion*

        Yeah, even if the training happens, everyone is going to smirk and/or ignore it. Training is useful if you either have a well-meaning but clueless organization who will actually do their best to take on the advice, OR you have a few bigots who need to be told in detail what is and is not ok to do, regardless of how they feel about it.

  35. ranking nightmares*

    If it helps you to speak up in the moment for future incidents, the Real Nightmare is losing a star employee that your company depends on due to a hostile environment and the Lesser Nightmare is temporarily ruffling some bigots feathers.

  36. I should really pick a name*

    Nuanced, compassionate answers like this are part of why I read Ask a Manager

  37. Bex (in computers)*

    OP, the situation you’re describing is one where you are tacitly supporting and entrenching homophobia. I understand the difficulties and I don’t mean to slash at you, but your continued employment with an organization that is unwilling to properly protects its employees against harassment is a statement, as you have already learned, that you support the company’s views and approaches over those of “other” folks.

    I understand running out of energy to fight the battles. I genuinely do. But at that point, the answer is to leave the battlefield, not give up on your people.

    It is exhausting being continually told that you are an abomination, a sin, a travesty and a dozen other things every day or every week, in a place where all you want is to do your job and help people.

    regardless of how an employee performs, they should be protected from this. Whether it’s your best or worst worker, you should be stepping in to actively shut this down. Because not saying anything against it is giving approval (as you’ve learned).

    Darren deserves to work somewhere that will respect him – including respecting him enough to shut down inappropriate comments. And you deserve to work somewhere that’s not making you a supporting figure in the discrimination and othering of someone else.

  38. Elle*

    I don’t see anything terribly surprising about this. In my experience, this is how straight people tend to behave in situations where someone is saying hateful stuff- ignore it to avoid “drama” and then point the finger at the queer person if they refuse to take it lying down. I just really hope that people who consider themselves allies are paying attention here.

  39. Marzipan Shepherdess*

    Kudos to you, OP, for recognizing the deep flaws in your organization and for owning your own role in enabling them to continue. That’s the only way I know of to even start effecting any change at all – although, realistically, it doesn’t sound as if your company is really open to that much change. There’s a saying that “A fish rots from the head on down”; frankly, it sounds as if your top people are far too comfortable with casual homophobia to even consider your that it’s toxic as hell and will drive away good people that you have now and discourage good people from even applying to your company in the future.

    That said, it’s also a warning sign that things fell apart as soon as Darren was off for a while. Your company is far too dependent on his being there if that’s what happened as soon as he wasn’t! Employees DO leave for all sorts of reasons; accidents happen, employees move away…and rock-star employees in toxic, homophobic organizations leave for better positions in better companies. Your organization has more than one problem on its hands, and isn’t doing anything to solve any of them. You and Darren both deserve better jobs at better places and I hope you both get them very soon!

  40. FattyMPH*

    You are going to lose Darren. For his own wellbeing, he needs to leave that workplace immediately. You can start working on how you’re going to manage his workload now so everything doesn’t totally fall apart when he leaves for good, which I would be expecting to happen literally any day now. I wouldn’t be surprised if he walked out at lunchtime one day and simply never came back. I cannot stress how much. “going back to the way things were” is a deeply unacceptable solution and goal, and I really hope you grow as a manager from this because you will have gay employees in the future and it would be a shame to keep failing them.

    1. A single, solitary newt*

      If OP’s goal is a return to productivity and continued misery of their best employee…well.

      1. fleapot*

        Return to productivity–and don’t forget affability!

        It sounds like OP is approaching the situation in good faith, so I would guess that they’re thinking of “Affable, Friendly, Helpful Darren” as “Mostly Content Darren” rather than (consciously) thinking that Darren should simply keep up a front. Speaking from experience, though, it would absolutely be a front in a situation like this, and keeping it up will require *enormous* effort on his part.

  41. Michelle Smith*

    As a queer person myself, this letter was hard to read. I get that you have to do what you need to do to keep your job at a certain level, but I hope that you are able to become a true ally and start speaking up when you hear people saying harmful things. They often are more insidious and don’t say these things when people in the marginalized group are actually around, but I hope you start speaking up whether we are there to stand up for ourselves or not. Confronting micro and macro aggressions on our own can be exhausting. Sharing some of that burden, especially when the person in our corner is our boss, is very welcomed.

  42. Storm in a teacup*

    OP – fellow Brit here spent many years working with vulnerable nhs patients. We still had a yellow card / red card system. Worth looking at for your clients.
    Your organisation has a duty of care to your clients but also to their employees.
    Also Stonewall UK site has some great resources for LGBT inclusive workplaces and may be worth looking at for yourself if not for the wider org.
    I’m sorry Darren has had to go through this. I’ve been lucky enough to work always in LGBT inclusive environments and it must be really hard for him to deal with.

  43. Don't kneel in front of me*

    “’whether your homophobia comes from Allah, Buddha, the flying spaghetti monster, or David Icke’s lizard people, I don’t care and don’t have to listen.’ Which Alan found disrespectful. I think Darren was probably less than diplomatic but Alan was highly tenacious and repetitive.”

    Uh, Darren had a completely reasonable and diplomatic response. Whether or not Alan found this disrespectful or offensive doesn’t retroactively make this response “less than diplomatic.”

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      Diplomacy =/= accepting abuse.
      Diplomacy = stating what you will and will not accept.

      Avoiding drama =/= allowing abuse.
      Avoiding drama = removing abusers.

    2. My soul is screaming for Darren*

      Darren’s response was, to me, far more diplomatic than Alan deserved.

      I went through something similar, although not nearly as terrible as what Darren has endured; my heart aches for him. It is a miserable, demoralizing slog trying to tough out each work days with people who either openly hate you simply for having the audacity to exist or decide to keep silent because they think standing up will result in “drama.”

    3. anxiousGrad*

      Yeah honestly if someone is proselytizing at work and pushing it after the first “no thank you,” they’re being extremely disrespectful and shouldn’t be surprised at someone saying something slightly rude in response. Even if Alan was pushing religious literature without bigoted content, he was already way over the line.

      I’m glad OP is starting to reflect on what it means to be an ally, but the fact that they criticized Darren’s response here shows me that they still have some more thinking to do on the subject.

      1. Exploding Soup*

        My thoughts exactly. Don’t let Alan’s religious motives muddy the waters, OP. He’s a raging homophobe who not only harassed and abused a colleague but had the absolute brass neck to complain when he was told, astonishingly politely under the circumstances, where to get off. He clearly thinks any resistance is provocation. Make sure you’re not buying into that in any way.

  44. Cthulhu's Librarian*

    I’m going to offer weird advice here, but… OP shouldn’t apologize to Darren. At least, not while you and he both work there.

    Darren should leave. OP being sympathetic now might be the thing that misleads him into staying, hoping things will change, when it is clear to those with a higher level picture that they won’t (at least, not for the better).

    Help Darren move on, OP. Be clear that the organization does not care and value him, and will never have his back. Lay it out like you have here. Then give him the best reference you’ve ever given anyone.

    Then blow the whistle on how much your employer sucks far and wide.

    On an related note, I can’t tell from the letter if the gossip from your HR outed Darren or not. If it did… forget blowing the whistle, you should set your employer on fire.

    1. Harpo*

      Being a human being to someone is more important that saving face. OP can be nice and apologize and still support Darren. OP can help Darren move on without STILL being an ay ess ess.

    2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      I think it’s possible to offer a personal apology/acknowledgement and also be very open about what the LW has observed with senior leadership and the very low likelihood that anything is going to change anytime in the foreseeable future.

  45. Observer*

    I’ve only read Allison’s comments up top and the responses to the second one, so I may be overlooking something.

    I’m an Orthodox Jew, which should give you some inkling of what my religious stance is.

    Having said that, as an Orthodox Jew I would not want to work in your organization. There are two reasons:

    **** My religion forbids lying and spreading negative rumors about people. That is what is happening here, and your leadership is totally on board with it. The ethical lapse here is horrifying to me.

    **** I’d be willing to bet anything that Alan is not only proselytizing to Darren. And if it’s not Allen, it’s someone else doing the proselytizing. And you can be sure that if it’s happening, no one is telling you or upper management, because they see what is happening to Darren.

    As a human being that wants to work in a reasonable, functional and reasonably ethical workplace, I would not want to work there, on top of the fact that your management is ok with discrimination:

    **** Your leadership cannot take feedback. If they miss something that they should have known about, they blame everyone else, and even get punitive.

    **** Your leadership and HR gossip. And it’s not just sharing stuff that’s a bit embarrassing, but ultimately no big deal, but stuff that’s damaging and even untrue. This is totally toxic.

    **** Your leadership does not have staff’s backs. Even with an inherently chaotic constituency, you should not be dealing with the level of craziness you describe. What’s even worse is your management’s apparently explicit policy that staff may never, ever, under any circumstances push back against abuse. That’s really bad.

    As a practical matter, as someone who would like to not be in the way when the **** hits the fan, I’d be looking for a new job. What’s going on is fodder for a law suit, as I’m pretty sure that what you are describing is illegal in the UK. And if UK law is anything like US law, the fact that this whole rodeo happened the way it has can be used against the organization if someone else sues them. And legal issues aside, if this ever hits the papers, it’s not going to be good. Get out while the getting is good.

      1. A single, solitary newt*

        This is a wonderful phrase. I’ve never heard it before but I will be using it.

        1. Nina*

          I’m in New Zealand. Here that phrase has recently seen a lot of use in encouraging the Immigration Minister to let an avowed transphobe with significant and visible literal Nazi support come into the country specifically to make speeches about how trans people shouldn’t exist. So of course he did that and she came and it was chaos and a really, really rough month for trans people nationwide because now the government is seen as refusing to do a really basic (and really legally defensible) thing to protect them.

          Sunlight is not the best disinfectant. Bleach is the best disinfectant. It’s not as pretty a metaphor, but ‘oho, let it all come out and it’ll be fiiiiiine’ doesn’t work in real life, it just encourages the people doing the exact thing you would like to disinfect.

      2. Observer*

        It is.

        My suggestion is for the OP, who is trying to do better, not the organization. For them, sunlight may be the only way to force them to do better.

  46. Jessica*

    I don’t know how you come back from this in terms of your relationship with Darren (and I hope he stays at your company just long enough to keep taking their money while he finds another job, then leaves for somewhere that will hopefully treat him with basic humanity, or at least won’t single him out from his coworkers for special abuse like your company has been doing), but in the interests of protecting the (almost certainly not self-identifying in an environment with this much enthusiastic bigotry) other queer people at the company, Alan needs to be fired.

    This is someone who engaged in extended harassment of a member of a marginalized group and then, when that marginalized person didn’t assent to being abused, reported the marginalized person and tried to *frame him as the aggressor.*

    That’s not, “Oh, Alan showed a bit of bad judgment and made a homophobic joke or two.” Alan straight-up *lied* to try to get a vulnerable person disciplined or fired for the thing *Alan* was doing, and attempted to use the power the company has over its employees to coerce that person into submitting to the harassment.

    Someone who’s willing to do that isn’t going to be fixed with a DEI seminar or two. This is going to keep happening.

    Alan needs to go, and I hope Darren sues.

    You probably can’t change the company that’s willing to use its queer employees as cannon fodder to not rock the boat, but you can advocate for getting rid of the most openly malicious people, like Alan, even if its only in the interest of not getting sued.

  47. Tio*

    Lw, I have a thought experiment to help reframe the situation. If Alan had been with you and a bunch of your male bosses in a meeting, and said that you should leave because women should be at home instead of working, and no one spoke up and disagreed with him, would you be uncomfortable? Would you tell yourself it was ok because them speaking up may cause drama? What if he stopped you in front of other coworkers and told you that you needed to wear a longer skirt because yours was immodest? And you looked around and everybody was just sitting silently or pretending to look busy? Would you start to wonder how many of them agreed with him?

    This is what it’s like when people don’t speak up. I am really glad you realize it’s not ok in light of this, but this may provide a good reframing on what it’s actually like when you’re not experiencing it, and I’ve found reframing it also helps remind me why I’m doing it when I do speak up.

  48. HotSauce*

    I agree with Allison that the best thing for both of you is to leave and in your exit interviews be sure to mention that you’re leaving due to the toxic environment that not only allows, but fosters, hate speech.

  49. Zarniwoop*

    “He does want the gossip and rumors shut down, retracted, and apologized for but by people higher up the ladder than me … which I worry is too big an ask for our senior leadership team ”
    Would it hurt your relationship with them to ask? If yes then don’t, but if not then ask and point out the consequences of them not doing so:
    “off work unexpectedly for four weeks, and the sheer chaos that caused was the stuff of nightmares.”

    1. Jessica*

      It’s sort of astonishing to me that “shut down slander about an employee” is too big an ask.

      1. Observer*

        It’s also the biggest red flag to me. Even more than the fact that they let it go on and then wanted to know why Darren never reported it.

    2. Zarniwoop*

      And if your superiors choose “lose key employee” over “well deserved apology” don’t go busting your butt trying to prevent disaster – you can’t afford to care more about the organization than the people running it.

  50. ecnaseener*

    Just chiming in to agree that making amends HAS to include accepting the consequences, which in this case are that Darren will leave. Asking him to stick around for more harm would wipe out any other amends you tried to make.

    You’re on your way, LW – own your part in this, help Darren as much as you can, and do whatever work you need to do on yourself to become someone who doesn’t let bigotry slide.

  51. Book lover*

    This advice is so remarkably thorough and thoughtful.

    OP, if you are reading this, I really do think you do need to leave. You can’t unsee what you now see in this organization. And you now know you can’t fix it. Staying is being, as Alison points out, okay with it. I also think you now have such remarkable personal experience that your insight on this could be hugely beneficial to some other organization. One that is willing to listen. Go do good works elsewhere. Go prevent future Darrens from being harmed.

  52. Rosyglasses*

    LW – this was incredibly courageous to write in about, and I applaud you for being able to do that (even knowing the commentariat would be rather critical of the scenario) and also seeing your part to play. I hope Allison’s reply gave you some clarity on how to best support Darren going forward and potentially evaluate whether you want to remain at this type of company as well. I wish you all the best and hope that you can weigh in in the future with a happier update.

  53. Emily*

    OP, both you and Darren deserve better and you should both do what you can to get out of this toxic environment. Let Darren know you’ll provide a stellar reference for him, plus whatever else you can offer. The way Darren was treated is terrible and I’m glad that you have done what sounds like a lot of self reflection.

  54. HonorBox*

    LW, I’m glad you’ve looked inwardly and understand how you were part of the overall problem Darren is experiencing. Absolutely let him know that you understand that and apologize for it.

    And as others have noted, be careful in how you let Darren know that if he wants to leave you’d support it. How well you know one another and how well you communicate will help guide you, but you’d hate to have him thinking you were pushing him out or throwing up your hands and not trying to fix things.

    Also, I’d strongly consider finding something else yourself. Fighting so many battles that you can’t fight another is exhausting and you would be better served finding a happier place. And perhaps you can put yourself in a position to bring Darren with you. Not that you have to make yourself a team hire, but if there’s a spot where you have some influence over bringing people onto the team, you obviously know someone good.

  55. Kelly*

    I completely understand how hard it is. I had to bite my tongue when our office manager and a client I had previously liked went on an extended rant about how trans people shouldn’t be allowed in public. I didn’t tell my boss because I didn’t think he would care and the OM had already been making my life hell with bullying (playing right wing talk radio right outside my office door when it wasn’t a good place for a radio). I couldn’t quit right awaybecause of a highly restrictive non-compete.

    Honestly the only thing I could do was get out.

  56. Susannah*

    Oh, LW.

    I admire that you wrote in, really, since you clearly are feeling bad about this. But a couple of things, aside from the bigger issue of your apparently horribly bigoted and spineless company.

    What do you mean that Darren was “less than diplomatic” in his response to hatred and bigotry? Why on earth should he be diplomatic? This isn’t about whether one person supports the Labor Party and the other, the Conservatives. This was an employee telling him he didn’t have the right to exist as the person he is. I was expecting to read that the offending employee had bene fired, honestly.

    Also, while I think you genuinely feel for Darren and maybe feel outnumbered/outgunned by upper level management, it also sounds like you’re more worried you’ll have a very competent worker who will (understandably!) be in a bad mood, rather than doing the same amazing job with his usual affable demeanor.

    I think Alison is right – that maybe you need to leave as well. I know it can be hard to be the one person trying to turn around a big, bigoted ship. It’s not always worth the effort. But maybe time to jump to another ship. For Darren, that goes without saying – sounds like he’s very marketable.

    1. Becca*

      Very very much this. I can understand that the mission to help your clients may feel like the most important thing, perhaps especially because you yourself have likely accepted inappropriate behaviour (from clients and/or higher ups) and told yourself that you can/have to accept it in order to get the mission done but you are mired in dysfunction.

      Even outside of the homophobia (which everyone else has covered very well), it speaks of terrible dysfunction that when Darren takes time off there is chaos. Your team shouldn’t be so dependent on one person, no matter how fantastic he is. Even if he’d been treated well he could choose to leave for another job for all sorts of reasons, or he could become unwell again. Again, I imagine you are very likely under a lot of pressure from yourself and others to achieve miracles with very little because of the needs you’re trying to serve. But if you can’t do that in a sustainable way your team and organisation are likely to collapse anyway, and then the users won’t have any help at all.

      I think you should review Alison’s articles about how toxic workplaces have a corrosive effect on you as an employee if you stay long term and think about moving on yourself.

      1. Snow*

        Yeah, I think this is also a large part of it – you can (I have, at a completely different nonprofit) learned to accept some deeply unpleasant working conditions for The Sake Of The Mission. It’s sometimes hard to deal with it when someone actually stands up for themselves. It feels wrong – you work so hard to believe that you can’t assert yourself because that would be mean and bad and hurtful, so if someone else is doing it then they’re being mean and bad and hurtful. Even if, rationally, all they’re doing is saying “that is not an appropriate way to talk about me”.

    2. Saddy Hour*

      This seems a bit nitpicky to me. OP said he was “probably less than diplomatic *BUT*” Alan was worse. I read that line as saying Darren likely did get pissed at Alan, but Alan provoked him and it was justified in OP’s eyes. This was in context of Alan prompting an investigation into Darren’s “discriminatory” behavior. I think it’s fair for OP to acknowledge that Darren might not have responded perfectly but that that doesn’t matter with the context. When LWs don’t include those statements, sometimes threads derail about “well what if Darren was actually a jerk though, have you considered that?!?!?!?”

      Likewise, I don’t get the sense that OP is MORE worried about the team dynamics/staffing (since 90% of the letter is about how it’s impacting Darren professionally and personally and how OP has learned from this experience). But as a manager and someone also stuck in this org for the moment, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for OP to worry about how other leaders’ inaction or blatant discrimination will hurt OP’s life too. The comment about how Darren’s attitude has changed reads to me much more as a person worried about another person, not about being upset at him for it. Good managers don’t want their staff to be miserable constantly, and it is reaaaaally frustrating when the factors making them miserable are out of your control.

  57. Anon for this, definitely*

    I remind myself that LW wrote the letter asking for help, not Darren, but my goodness my hackles are up at how much most comments are centering the LW and their redemption arc.

    Almost no-one is saying it and it needs to be said: LW you are part of the problem here. Maybe even worse than Alan because unlike Alan you know it’s wrong and you’ve stood mute and therefore endorsed Alan and top management and everyone else doing terrible things in this workplace.

    Ask Darren how he would like to be helped by you. Then do all of those things. Even if you lose your own job over it.

    1. metadata minion*

      I think people aren’t saying things like this to the LW because she seems very well-aware of it already, and Alison already emphasized that in her response.

    2. Saddy Hour*

      Few people are saying it because OP already said it. The assignment of blame here is very weird if you truly think OP is more harmful than the guy shoving hateful literature down a colleague’s throat.

      Is it not wrong to expect Darren to effectively solve this problem himself by telling his manager what to do? I would want my manager’s support and transparent communication in a situation like this, for sure, but man, I would also want to see my manager DOING STUFF without me having to spell it out. Putting the onus on Darren, especially to the point that his manager (seemingly one of the few sympathetic leaders in the company) is, what? fired? seems really satisfying for the justice of a detached observer, but a lot less satisfying for the people who are actually navigating this minefield.

    3. Gerry Keay*

      Raking people over the coals when they’re already showing contrition is an utterly ineffective way to change hearts and minds, and advice columns will always center the letter writer because that’s who is participating in the conversation. This isn’t about the LW’s “redemption arc” (they’re a real person, not a character) — it’s about giving LW the tools to make amends and prevent further harm.

      I don’t understand the desire to turn the comments section to turn into a maoist struggle session when someone has already acknowledged “hey I messed up and need help making it right.”

    4. Jamie (he/him)*

      It would be unhelpful to LW or Darren to condemn, humiliate, bash or get on the case of someone who has realised they’ve fcked up, realised that they’ve condoned and therefore encouraged bigotry, realised that they are part of this shtshow, and then written to someone they know could help them dig themselves out of the hole they recognise and admit they’ve dug for themselves.

      I’m a very angry and embittered queer guy, and will always be the first to HULK SMASH someone who is not seeking to put their mistakes right.

      But the moment someone comes to us and asks not even to be forgiven or for redemption but actually says what can I do to put this right? what can I do to to solve this problem I’m a part of? Then, yes, we have to give them a redemption arc.

      The alternative is some sort of mark of Cain, where they will be forever scarred on the forehead and can never be forgiven and must be shunned. If that’s the way forward, then nobody will ever back down from previous poor positions. Nobody will ever try to make amends. Nobody will ever come asking for help when they’ve fcked up.

      So nothing will ever get better, as people will only ever be left with the option of doubling down.

      At some point, we have to allow people to admit mistakes and seek to move forward. If everything is unforgivable, despite repentance, then all crimes are equal, and there can be no progress.

      1. MEH Squared*

        This is an excellent remark, and I wholeheartedly agree. I am the first to call out all the isms; so I am also the first to encourage those who are trying to do better.

    5. jpchatham*

      Okay – OP is part of the problem, yes (and she’s said so herself), but there is no way she’s “maybe even worse than Alan”. I’ve been in a similar position to Darren.

      In my situation, I wasn’t out at work. I was sitting near Senior Coworker Adam, Manager Bob, and Manager Chris (we had a LOT of managers at that job). Adam started a loud conversation with Bob, loud enough that Chris and I could easily hear it. Adam started with one of those cartoonishly exaggerated ha-ha-just-joking-OR-AM-I opinions on the best way to kill all the gays. Bob responded with something along the lines of “well, you’re not wrong, but I don’t think you need to be *that* extreme about it”. Chris didn’t respond at all.

      I was most upset by Bob, because he actively showed me he wasn’t going to stand up for me AND because he was my manager. There could be actual consequences if Bob found out I was gay. I was less upset by Adam, because I knew him well enough to know he was kind of a blustery windbag in general and liked to get a rise out of people. But OP sounds most similar to Chris in this situation, and I completely understood why Chris wouldn’t speak up. I mean, I wasn’t going to speak up either! It would have been nice if he had, and he did have the standing, but he probably was surprised and didn’t know what to do.

      OP certainly could and should have done better, but let’s not say the bystanders are worse than the actual perpetrators.

  58. I Have RBF*

    IMO, both the LW and Darren need to leave. LW because this job has destroyed her norms of how people should behave towards others, and Darren because he has put up with more than enough shit. That place is not going to change, especially when the clients are allowed to be a major part of the abuse problem. I have a feeling that the crap leveled at Darren by Alan is just the yellow icing on a shit cake, and that Darren gets a lot more abuse than he has been letting on.

    Both the LW and Darren need new jobs, with at least two weeks between the old and the new to reset their expectations.

  59. Caroline*

    OP all you can do is sit down with Darren and lay it out. Tell him, clearly and in a straightforward way, how wrong you have been – with no excuses, though any context might be helpful – and how ashamed you are of yourself. Let him know exactly what and how you plan to try and achieve what he quite reasonably wants, and how you are worried that you might not personally be able to achieve those things. Then, because I think it’s literally the very best course of action for you and for Darren, I would give him any help he might need to leave. Explain how valuable he is to you, and how this has made you completely reassess your life, your work and how you’ve just let bad things go for fear of provoking drama.

    And then, please, please, find another, much better job, where your basic morals and decency aren’t so beaten down that this sort of thing goes unchecked, indeed defended by those who should know much, much better.

    But first, apologise fully to Darren.

  60. Heidi*

    As a lesbian who once had a very homophobic boss/owner and a very kind (not homophobic) manager/direct leader at the same time, I think you need to take your manager hat off for second and just tell Darren that you’re sorry, admit your wrongs (because it sounds as though you’re only able to control your own actions, not your leadership team’s actions) and just level with him. Sometimes people just need to hear, “I messed up, I get that I messed up, I’m really sorry, and I’m going to do better in the future.” Whether Darren stays or goes, whether your leadership team wises up or not, Darren is going to remember what YOU said and did. Level with Darren and let him know that, as a person, not just a boss, you’re in his corner.

  61. Linus*

    It might be worthwhile to make clear to your management the volume of work Darren is responsible for (for example, compiling his metrics, which projects and clients he has been responsible for, their feedback and response) to emphasize that losing Darren because of this would be hugely detrimental to your organization in both the short and long term. It seems like currently your leadership doesn’t have a great grasp on the very real stakes of his departure.

  62. My Useless 2 Cents*

    I think this is the kind of issue that needs to be reframed for senior management. Ex. “From a PR and modern societal standpoint, this could hurt future partnerships/potential clients within the community. This is leading modern company that will not tolerate future discrimination”.

    Granted, the company fell short and was in the wrong but that just makes senior management defensive and doesn’t help Darren moving forward. However, by restating the issue to get around the senior management’s defensiveness and show senior management that it would look better condemning discrimination at the company. Then not just Darren but the company as a whole would benefit. Although, I do acknowledge that this does not provide Darren with the validation and apology he deserves.

    1. Ellis Bell*

      Yes! While I think I would definitely be brushing off the CV and offering Darren a reference, there’s a way around the in house defensiveness that’s worth a try on the way out at least. I don’t think they’ve got what it takes to apologize to Darren and admit to being ignorant, but they may be willing to avoid doing the same thing in the future. I think it’s also worth mentioning that if they go overboard on accepting a client’s homophobia they may only end up with homophobic clients as no one else will work with them.

      1. allathian*

        Perhaps, but it sounds like the leadership at this company is beyond redemption honestly. They aren’t ashamed of their views and aren’t interested in doing any better. Given how pervasive homophobia still is, they might not even worry overmuch about the idea of only serving homophobic clients.

  63. Lizy*

    I love my Jesus. I really, really want to be open about it and talk about my faith and how it’s helped me. BUT – I really, really, really don’t want to push anyone away or make anyone uncomfortable because of my faith. I know it’s inevitable, to an extent, but I cringe at the idea of being one of “those Christians”. Hate ain’t gonna bring no-one to the cross, y’all.

    Anyhow – IMO if anyone expresses any uneasiness or discomfort in me (or anyone) talking faith/religion, then I (or anyone) should immediately apologize for the offense and STOP FREAKIN’ TALKING ABOUT IT. Does that mean I can’t say “we had an awesome service at church” when asked about my weekend? No. But that also means I can’t say “oh Darren, you should have been at service this weekend! We had an awesome service and I bet we could have gotten those evil gay-demons out of you, too!” Just writing that makes me want to vomit. Do I believe in “traditional” marriage? Yes, but I also believe that people should keep their opinions and beliefs out of anyone else’s business.

    At the end of the day, Darren’s not being gay AT ME, he’s just gay. I certainly don’t have the right to be Bible-thumping AT him. If he wanted to talk to me about my faith, I’m 100% open. But I’m certainly not going to shove it down his throat, nor do I think anyone deserves that. Why can’t people just BE NICE?

    I still want Pluto to be a planet, but science has overriden me. Just because I want it to be true doesn’t change the fact it’s not a planet. On the same token, just because I want everyone to be Christian and live by faith blah blah blah, doesn’t change the fact that people …. aren’t. That’s just reality. I really don’t understand why people have to be asshats about it.

    1. Another Darren*

      I’m gay and I’m being gay AT YOU and everyone else who thinks I’m wrong.

      How can you compare actual people’s lives to Pluto?Darrens professional reputation and job is on the line. Countless queer people die from homophobia.

    2. metadata minion*

      I don’t want to pile on here, and I appreciate how respectfully you wrote this, but I think most of us know Christians who are decent people. I really don’t need a reminder that Christians think every other religion in the world is wrong, or that I’m sinful for being who I am. (“but that’s ok; we’re all sinners! Yes, but to me that’s NOT A SIN. At all. If you want to help me with my sins, be an accountability buddy for me in calling my representatives to push for social justice or something.)

    3. Ellis Bell*

      You’re clearly very nice… it’s still a little scary to hear that people from a faith tradition actually want everyone to be in that faith! I find that level of conformity alarming. I don’t want everyone to join me in celebrating Beltane, I want people to walk their own path. If anything it’s even scarier because you are so nice.

      1. Avocado Toast*

        If you really believed that your religion was true and all others were false, and that following false religions would lead to eternal damnation, wouldn’t you want everyone to see the light? I don’t really see how a true Christian could feel any other way, honestly.

        1. TransmascJourno*

          Actually, there are many religions which, on a foundational level, are not of that mindset. Judaism , for one, which is virulently against proselytizing. (Not to mention it also holds that other belief systems are perfectly valid.)

        2. Ermintrude (she/her)*

          Having been such a zealot myself and spending several years as an atheist, I reckon now that wanting everyone to believe what you believe is also possibly a way of warding off one’s own potential unbelief, or making up for feelings of inadequacy – I don’t think every Christian is like that but I certainly was.
          I was a glass bowl to people because of the perceptions I’d been given & had formed. If one can take on board that there may be no version of Christianity that can meet most people’s needs there’s no reason to wish for everyone to share one’s own faith.

    4. Gerry Keay*

      This comment is… not doing what I think you think it’s doing. My human rights are in no way comparable to Pluto’s taxonomical designation, and this whole “I’m homophobic but I’m better than all those homophobes because I’m nice about it” is really tiring. (Because let’s be real here, saying you believe in traditional marriage — even with the scare quotes — is explicitly homophobic.)

      1. MEH Squared*

        Yes. When the debate over marriage equality was happening, there was so much push from the antis to keep the tone ‘civil’. “Why can’t we agree to disagree?” Because you want to treat me as less than a human being, and that’s disgusting. ‘Nice’ often is a way to paper over the issues and not look too closely at what is lying underneath.

        OP, if you believe in ‘traditional’ marriage (and only ‘traditional’ marriage), then you are not an ally because you are not allowing me and other queer people our humanity.

    5. Becca*

      There’s a really beautiful line in a song by Grace Petrie, a lesbian songwriter which goes:

      “If everything that I’m made of was fashioned by your god above it was him that gave this kind of love to me”

      I probably can’t change your mind about believing in “traditional marriage” but I’d love it if you would reflect on why a god who created us, loves us and wants what is best for us would make people gay and make that a sin. We are all subject to temptation to sin and some more so than others due to their situation in life. But would the god you love really be so cruel to make people who can only experience romantic love through sin?

      1. Ermintrude (she/her)*

        They can if any deviation from monogamous heterosexuality is attributed to Satan & therefore sinful. :-/
        Which, to clarify, is utter untruth.

    6. CommanderBanana*

      “just because I want everyone to be Christian and live by faith”

      Cool, my people have a multi-thousand-year-long history of being killed and exiled by people who thought the same thing, so….congratulations?

      1. Exploding Soup*

        Quite. There’s also a storied history of Christians persecuting, torturing and killing other Christians. The idea that the world would be a better place if everyone was Christian and lived by faith (what sort of Christian? What expression of faith?) isn’t remotely credible. And, as someone who was compelled to attend religious worship against her will for the first 19 years if her life, it’s my idea of hell.

    7. Cthulhu’s Librarian*

      Maybe you need to realize that people are always problematic whenever they start getting preachy? And get off your high horse, and let us all just get on with our lives, however we live them?

      Your faith is not mine, and I consider it a no more than a prison. That you find it a comfortable home is as irrelevant to me as whether someone enjoys living in a Hollywood mansion or a hovel – I shall always feel imprisoned in either, for they are not the place I have chosen.

      There is nothing righteous or good in wishing your prison onto another.

    8. Proud Atheist*

      Yikes…there is so much here my head is spinning. Under all your talk of wishing people could just “be nice” there is also the thread of just wishing everyone would conform to the way you live and think. It’s insulting and that will always make me absolutely livid.

    9. Lucky Meas*

      “Do I believe in “traditional” marriage? Yes, but I also believe that people should keep their opinions and beliefs out of anyone else’s business.”

      Trying to reconcile this assertion with posting these thoughts beneath a letter about someone facing homophobia.
      You don’t think Darren has the right to marry someone he loves. But you also think you should keep your opinions and beliefs out of his business. But you post your thoughts here, where you know people like Darren will read it.

      It would be weird to respond to your comment with “Do I think Christians are wrong? Yes but I think people should keep their opinions to themselves.” I imagine it hurts your feelings, makes you feel like you’re being targeted and silenced at the same time. I think you have a bit more work to do on keeping your hurtful opinions to yourself.

    10. Polly*

      You wanting everyone to be Christian is 100% what makes people ass hats about their religion. I am an atheist, and I don’t care what other people are. I don’t want other people to be atheists. The wanting other people to be like you and believe what you believe is the root of all evil as it relates to religion. That it’s not enough for you to believe, you want everyone else to believe. That’s what leads to all the trouble.

      1. allathian*

        Yes, this. And the people who’re nice and polite about it are scarier than the loudmouths.

        At least this OP apparently has the decency not to proselytize to an unenthusiastic audience, but that’s a small consolation.

        I utterly and completely reject the concept of sin, for a start.

        1. Feral FatCat*

          And yet here they are, proselytizing to an unenthusiastic audience! They could have said this exact comment (“Alan’s religion isn’t anyone else’s business!”) without telling all of us how helpful Jesus has been in their life. This is why the nice ones are scarier, they wrap it up in a pretty bow hoping that maybe we won’t notice.

      2. A Talking Tree*

        “Golly gee sure all us good Christians wish you queer heathens didn’t exist, but it’s gauche to say it aloud! Don’t worry you poor damned souls, I’m a nice bigot!”

        Makes it worse to my mind. Also disdain (even if you’re deluded enough to consider it love) is very easy to sense. I promise you, each and every queer and non-Christian they interact with absolutely can sense their condensation and bigotry.

  64. Sybil Writes*

    I appreciate the fact that you cringe and want to do better. The process of becoming more accountable for our own part in discrimination (systemic or otherwise) is neither short nor painless (based on my own experience). I point the following out in the spirit of constructive criticism.
    “…On a professional level, losing Darren would be a nightmare and a lesser nightmare would be to have Affable, Friendly, Helpful Darren be replaced by seething Absolutely Done With This Darren…” caused me to cringe. The lesser nightmare shouldn’t be that a good person, reliable employee and target of aggressive homophobia shows reasonable frustration. This comment reflects centering your focus around your/the company’s needs over the need to provide a safe place for your employees. I really don’t want to beat you up, but offer a point to reflect on where you have most chance to effect change: your own perspective. The world needs people who want to do better, which requires a willingness to grow and change. A resource you may find valuable is the book, Crucial Conversations (Third Edition): Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High
    by Joseph Grenny, Kerry Patterson, et al.

    1. Zarniwoop*

      “This comment reflects centering your focus around your/the company’s needs over the need to provide a safe place for your employees.”
      Which fits the organizational culture:
      “a client could stab one of us and the director would apologize to them for the blood on their shoes”

      External reality check: you shouldn’t be expected to apologize for getting blood on the shoes is someone who stabbed you. This organization’s values are effed up and you seem to have internalized them. You should take a step back and ask what else you’re going along with that really you shouldn’t.

  65. Keymaster of Gozer*

    I’ve worked for firms like this in the UK where bullying people, spreading lies about them etc was accepted if they were not white, cis, straight, able bodied men and the attitude went all the way to the top. Senior leadership often had the view of ‘there’s some truth in every accusation’ or ‘if they just tried to be normal there wouldn’t be a problem’

    (For context: a coworker of mine was effectively hounded out of the firm in one place for having HIV and being gay)

    The bad news is: you can’t fix rot that deep. The senior management won’t change and deep seated bigotry won’t go away. Only in exceptional cases, usually involving lawyers and the media, does it ever alter.

    The good news is: you can make a difference, a small one, by just saying and showing that do personally do not agree with the bigotry. It’s a small effect, tiny, but as a manager you can at least make sure the rest of your staff don’t bully him and let him know that you are sorry for your previous inaction.

    I also recommend starting a job hunt of your own. Because being in a place like that will not do you any good. Might even be beneficial to privately tell him that you’ve had enough of this crap too and are looking to move on – and anywhere you go you’ll put in an excellent word for him.

  66. New Senior Mgr*

    OP, from your description, I can see how everything went down. I applaud you for writing in; that took in depth honesty. I recommend (besides what Alison already wrote above) you let Darren know you’re in his corner regardless of his next month.

  67. Lauren*

    Ask Darren to think about what he wants. If he wants to stay, what does that look like / needs to happen to get back to feeling better about the whole situation. If he doesn’t want to stay, what does that look like. Does he want leeway to go on interviews or does he want a severance package and leave immediately with notes added for what HR will say for why he left. He may want 6 months severance and insurance (not COBRA) and get unemployment after that. But be damn sure you are allowed to offer that, get it in writing ready, and give him deadline of when he must decide (week / weekend).

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      This is the UK so health insurance et al isn’t an issue and a severance package would only apply in case of redundancy.

  68. metadata minion*

    In terms of writing a mental script for what to do next time this comes up — either while Darren is still there or when you’re in a new organization altogether — remember that you can ask Darren how best to support him. I think I can safely say that as a first option, speaking up is better than staying silent unless you believe it will lead to actual physical violence. But after that you can reach out to a) make sure the person is ok, check what other supports they might need, etc.; and b) ask if that’s how they’d like you to respond in the future. Even if you’re pretty sure you know what the right option is, this can give the targeted person more agency and help shut up the little voice going “but what if there’s drama and it makes things worse!”.

  69. Cat's Paw for Cats*

    “By staying silent I was hoping to keep drama and potential upset to a minimum (especially since Darren is generally so genial) rather than intending to give tacit consent.”

    This is a mentality I will never understand until the day I die. It’s a matter of personal integrity to refuse to participate in wrongdoing.

    1. Lauren*

      It sounds like this company won’t stand for that, and anyone that does try to call this out is then retaliated against with gossip, less capital, deemed not ‘one of us’, etc. And it’s exhausting to constantly be doing that.

  70. Jamie (he/him)*

    Thank you, as has always been the case, for being an LGBTQ+ ally, Alison.

    LW, you dropped the ball on this. Hard. But you get that, which is the beginning of doing something positive about it. Now you know, you’ll be a better human being going forward and that’s great.

    Darren, not that you’ll ever see this, but as one gay man to another: Run. Yes, that’ll put you in a worse position financially and in your career. But this type of BS seriously rots your soul. Even if the company made everything better tomorrow – and they won’t – the damage that has been done to you psychologically needs to be repaired and that can only be done outside of the hellhole you’re working in.

    This is not normal.

    This is not right.

    You are valid and valuable and what bigots, and straight people who can’t or won’t see that they’re enabling bigotry, have done to you is appalling and wrong and inhuman.

    I have lived through the era of AIDS, popular newspapers saying all LGBT+ people are perverts after your kids, don’t-say-gay laws, every single piece of basic humanity having to be fought for and being given begrudgingly, and having to quit jobs I loved because bigots gonna bigot. And still it continues.

    I am so very tired.

  71. Elizabeth West*

    New world slogan: Make Bigots Uncomfortable Again.

    OP, I think maybe you also might want to look for a better place to work. This one is full of evil bigoted bees. It’s not going to get any better, especially if upper management is okay with open hostility that may even be legally actionable (I don’t know what employment protections exist in the UK for LGBTQ+ people). Who knows who they’ll target next?

    Also, Alan can take his sincerely held religious whateverthefck and stick it where the sun don’t shine.

  72. Zarniwoop*

    “management had been present when Alan – and, for that matter, another colleague, clients, and even partner charities (we work with small local charities, some of which are religious based) – have made inappropriate remarks about homosexuality and kept silent. ”
    Going forward can you start pushing back? Saying “Hey man, not cool” when it happens?

    1. Jamie (he/him)*

      Here in the UK, the local [US: state] government for London ran this powerful campaign to try to get people to say “hey man, not cool” about misogyny: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qbk3iJqmjNU

      The Scottish Government’s similar campaign was even more hard-hitting: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sVcu8Hwv8u8

      But both boil down to exactly what you’re saying, Zarniwoop [great handle, btw! GET! ME! ZARNIWOOP!] – it’s our responsibility to push back, on misogyny, homophobia, racism, antisemitism, ableism, all of this BS. Just a simple “hey man, not cool” is the start of it.

    2. Zarniwoop*

      Just saw this:
      “our clients are inherently chaotic and we have 1200 of them) that even the thought of potentially provoking another explosion or tantrum is unimaginable.”

      I can see why you wouldn’t want to push back against such clients. But I’d hope (*) that you can push back at coworkers and partners without fear of explosive tantrums.

      (*) though not assume

  73. Lead Balloon*

    LW, I think your employer is too far gone for there to be any redemption for Darren. He should go to ACAS, and if he feels as if he wants to get should take your employer to a tribunal.

    There are good reasons for you to leave, firstly because it sounds like a place that is not going to do anyone’s health or wellbeing any good, and also because if Darren did decide to go to tribunal, or otherwise make public what happened, would you want to work for an organisation with a terrible reputation? You don’t say where your funding comes from but an organisation with a reputation for homophobia and discrimination is going to struggle to get public funding.

  74. Imprudence*

    third sector governance person here. are you in a charity with trustees? Trustees *ought* to be interested in the attitudes you describe and want to do something about it. The Charity Commission which regulates charities will have some useful information on its website

  75. Rainbow*

    And this is in the UK??? I’m in the UK and I hope you know Darren is probably/hopefully considering legal action against the organization. I would. He can make a free call to ACAS for informal advice any time (hint for all the UK Darrens out there).

    I once had a manager (he was about to start being my manager, and I the only woman in his team) who said nothing when someone in his team made a sexist comment directly to me in the pub. That made my trust in that manager go right down. And one other time (I am a lesbian) at a different company, a guy more senior than me made a gay joke while drunk at the Christmas party. That coloured my feelings about him and their whole company to be honest.

  76. Jo-El (Kryptonian)*

    I also manage a gay employee who started for me not too long ago. We talked long and hard before she transferred to my department. I told her that if anyone ever said anything to her in any way to let me know and i’d squash it immediately. She asked me what my views were on being gay and I told her that my personal views don’t matter. However, since she asked I told her that my opinion was that I don’t owe her my acceptance of her sexuality, I owe her my indifference.

    I just truly don’t care what someone does with their life as long as they aren’t hurting anyone.

    With that said I am proud of the letter writer for recognizing where they fell short, that is the hardest thing to do in life. It’s time to sit down their employee and really admit what they did (or didn’t do) and to guarantee them that ANY remark you hear or that is brought to your attention will be dealt with immediately and then do it the next time it comes up. Nothing will mend the bridges faster than actions. You can’t control what uppers do, only yourself, but fighting for employees and making them better is why you are in that position to begin with. Good luck. :)

    1. Elitist Semicolon*

      “However, since she asked I told her that my opinion was that I don’t owe her my acceptance of her sexuality, I owe her my indifference” is not the statement of support or solidarity that you think it is.

      1. Jo-El (Kryptonian)*

        You are both probably correct, however whether or not I accept her as being gay is not relevant to my being her boss in any way. I accept and appreciate her as a person without labels. I owe it to her to let her be herself without my judgment either for against coloring our relationship. To me being gay is as relevant to how I will interact with her as if she were a Boston RedSox fan.

        1. Lucky Meas*

          Yes but do you see how in the context of someone facing oppression for their identity “I don’t care” is not the same as “I accept and appreciate you”?

          We are moving away from “we are all one race, the human race” “everyone is the same deep down” and other kinds of “colorblind” ways of thinking, because this can erase the real differences in perspectives that minorities have. And because it also makes people feel forced to assimilate and hide their differences, rather than encouraging open understanding and sincere acceptance by the majority.

        2. Ermintrude (she/her)*

          You don’t get to erase our chosen labels, Jo-El.
          You accept all your heterosexual colleagues’ sexualities, you don’t say that sort of garbage to them.

        3. MEH Squared*

          Being gay is not a label; it’s part of who she is. You cannot appreciate her as a person if you don’t see that. You may *think* you are expressing tolerance, but yo’re not. You’re telling her, “I agree with what those other people think–but not how they act.” Because if you disagreed with them, you would state it. I’m not saying that’s how you feel, but that’s how you’re being perceived (at least by me). I would not trust you to have my back in that situation, and I most certainly would not come to you if someone was being queerphobic towards me.

          1. H.Regalis*

            “You’re telling her, ‘I agree with what those other people think–but not how they act.'”

            Yeah, that’s the thing. You still hate her. You’re just saying is that you can’t be bothered to be aggressively hateful towards her.

            1. AR*

              Exactly. If you genuinely believe that someone is going to burn in hell just for existing as themself, that will likely color your interactions with them. Doesn’t matter that you can put a polite facade over the beliefs.

        4. Becca*

          If a female employee mentioned to you that her husband was taking her out to dinner for their anniversary would you give a speech about how her marriage is irrelevant to your management of her and that you are indifferent to it? Or would you say something like “that’s nice, I hope you enjoy it”?

          If you genuinely do have completely impersonal relationships with all your employees that’s fine (I would hate that in a manager but it’s not discriminatory). And I’m not saying you should be best friends or cross lines in your relationship with your employees, that’s bad in another way. But if your non-straight employees get pointed robotic indifference for the sort of normal casual chat that a straight person could have without fear or even a second thought that is discriminating and will damage your relationship.

      2. Ermintrude (she/her)*

        Agreed. By that token the employee is not obliged to accept Jo-El as a person who interacts in good faith since Jo-El won’t accept a major aspect of her existence and who she is as her authentic self, not just being unapproving of one of her personal activities.
        That’s still bigotry – wedding-cake marzipan wrapped over shit.

    2. Polly*

      It’s certainly your prerogative not to extend acceptance. But I think it’s important that you understand that it doesn’t fool anybody when you do that. You make your disapproval clear. I am assuming that’s your intent, and I think anybody else would assume that’s your intent. On the very, very slim chance that it’s not, you should know that’s how people interpret that.

    3. Antigone Funn*

      “She asked me what my views were on being gay and I told her that my personal views don’t matter.”

      That’s an OK start. A good way to continue would be, “I will always treat you fairly and honestly, have your back, and be open to feedback about my own behavior too. Please let me know if you feel like I’m falling short, and I’ll do my best to make it right.”

      “However, since she asked I told her that my opinion was that I don’t owe her my acceptance of her sexuality, I owe her my indifference.”


      Maybe it’s just the midwesterner in me, but that reads pretty hostile to me! “I don’t owe you” = “I’m not giving you anything, and you have a lot of nerve even asking”

      And “I don’t accept, I am indifferent” = “I reject homosexuality, but I’m going to act like I don’t”

      Jo-El…if you truly are dedicated to treating this employee as equal, you should think over why you felt the need to telegraph your disapproval while claiming it makes no difference. Why do that, if it honestly makes no difference? Just tell her you’re going to treat her fairly no matter what, and you’ll have her back against anyone who doesn’t. Then stop treating her weirdly, which TBH you already did by dragging her into “a long and hard” discussion where you only promised to *pretend* you don’t disapprove of her existence.

  77. Calamity Janine*

    yknow, given the biology of bees, i wouldn’t have expected them to be homophobic.

    but your office is certainly very full of bees, LW

  78. H.Regalis*

    “There’s a running joke that a client could stab one of us and the director would apologize to them for the blood on their shoes”

    My first long-term job was at a place like that, and it messed me up as far as what is and isn’t okay in a workplace. I’m sorry for all of you who are stuck there.

  79. Emma*

    LW, I think I work in a similar sector to you, also in the UK, and I want to try to give you a bit of context about how wildly out of step your organisation is.

    I’ve had training at multiple jobs on how to handle clients making prejudiced comments – it’s part of the standard onboarding. Depending on the situation, that can be anything from “I can’t have you using that language here, if you do it again I’ll have to ask you to leave and come back later”, to “that’s not our experience here” (used this several times in response to clients commenting that they can’t access x public service because all the asylum seekers get priority) and various levels of severity and directness in-between. Your organisation should have a policy on this and a clear process to follow if a client continues to make inappropriate comments – the process usually involves them getting to work with the hardest nosed, take-least-shit senior person available, once they become available.

    The places I have worked also have a reporting process for incidents like these, and a process that employees can follow if they’ve been emotionally impacted by such an incident and need some extra support. That support does often fall on managers and it’s often not very in-depth, usually a chat and the option to take a break, but even just knowing the policy is there and is taken seriously makes a difference when you’re on the receiving end.

    Of course, the specifics of what you’re doing make a big difference to the details of what this looks like in practise. I’ve worked in jobs where I would be one-on-one with a client, and if they were being low-level inappropriate it might be a case of “wrap it up early and get someone else to see them next time”, and if that wasn’t adequate then things were probably pretty bad. I’ve also worked in settings where my manager or a coworker could, and sometimes would, walk up next to me, tell the client off and then stand there and watch them while I finished dealing with their query.

    I’m not saying you should go back to work and implement this. You can’t; it has to come from the top. I’m a little amazed that your org and its partner orgs have managed to keep your contracts without providing a copy of a meaningful diversity policy, but maybe it’s a lip service situation – either way, please know that even in very pressured, chaotic 3rd sector environments, there are a *lot* of orgs that deal with these issues a *lot* better than yours does.

  80. rubble*

    the only thing I would add is that if there’s any way for you to contact, say, a company lawyer/legal advisor about this, you should (unless they’ve also participated in the gossip and nonsense like HR has)? I would be seriously concerned about illegal discrimination in this situation and a good legal advisor would be horrified by, at the very least, the legal mess the company might be in for if this isn’t dealt with properly.

  81. lazuli*

    I’d like to share my experience from a similar situation where I was in Darren’s shoes, in case it helps you think about how you might want to approach him.

    I was in a meeting where manager-level co-workers were making fun of religious traditions that I practice and that some of their employees practice. They didn’t know that about me, so I know it wasn’t personal, and I was so upset by it in the moment that I couldn’t figure out what to say. Afterward I collected my thoughts and sent an email to the people who participated in the conversation, explaining why what they said was hurtful and discriminatory. I linked to explanations to help with the education. I didn’t flat out say, “What you were doing was potentially creating a hostile work environment against a protected class,” but I talked about how “you never know who’s in the room.” I pointed out that these spiritual practices are maybe more common among marginalized groups and I appealed to their sense of wanting to do right by other people.

    One of the co-workers took this as a personal attack and decided I had called her racist. She spent the next nine months making my work life miserable while claiming she was the victim. We had a common boss, who wasn’t present but who saw my email and told me she thought it was appropriate in tone and content. Nevertheless, she acted like my co-worker’s anger was valid and that I had done something wrong simply because my co-worker was upset. No matter how much I pointed out that she was the one who made fun of my religion and that all of this was retaliatory for my asking her (nicely! politely!) to stop, the fact that I was historically easygoing and she was historically reactive ended up with pressure on me to just apologize or let it go or compromise (on…. what???).

    In my boss’s mind, apparently, the fact that I was easygoing meant that I wasn’t allowed to ask for a workplace free of harassment. The fact that my co-worker was notoriously a pain in the ass meant that she should just get her way.

    I WAS LIVID. I felt like I had been collaborative and cooperative and a team player for TEN YEARS, like I had put the wellbeing of the organization above my own many times, and I was being rewarded by being treated like I was less-than. Like I was not only not being valued, but that I was out of line for even ASKING to be valued.

    I’m still with the organization, but that’s broken a trust that I will never get back. I don’t believe that anyone will have my back and so I don’t intend to go above and beyond anymore. I don’t intend to pretend that discrimination and harassment are not happening when they are. And I am handcuffed to this organization for a lot of reasons right now, but I would leave in a heartbeat if I could swing it. I have never felt so absolutely betrayed in my life.

    There’s a cost to supporting “easy” over “right,” and it means you end up losing rational adults and supporting tantrum-y toddlers. I have no respect for any of the people who know what was going on and didn’t intervene on my behalf.

    1. allathian*

      I’m so sorry this is happening to you. I wish you luck in getting a better job as soon as possible, and a way to get rid of the handcuffs keeping you there, too. At least it sounds like you no longer need to work with the troublemaker, so I guess that’s at least something.

      1. lazuli*

        Thanks. And as an extra-special follow-up: As I was transferring to a different team, that manager was doing my performance evaluation. She tried to lower my scoring in “Communication” because of what happened. She said that she thought I had communicated well in the situation and that she thought my co-worker had completely overreacted, but that she felt she had to document what happened.

        “It seems completely inappropriate,” I said, “to downgrade MY evaluation because I was retaliated against for asking someone to stop making fun of my religious practices. Especially if you agree that I was reasonable in how I handled that request.”

        She fixed it, but it was just absolutely the cherry on top.

  82. SomeNameNotMyName*

    If it were me… I would NOT proactively bring up the topic of leaving, or of helping him leave.

    I imagine Darren might value job security and suddenly having a reaction “woah woah! Now we’re talking about me LEAVING?”

    That could come across as being ushered out. Or pushed out. I say rather, IF Darren brings up leaving, THEN offer to assist with that. But let him broach the topic first.

    1. Observer*

      I doubt that they would be significantly different. Because the fact that he is a start performer does make management’s behavior worse. But as many commenters explicitly called out, Allen’s behavior was out of line regardless and the way the management allows staff to be abused is out of line, regardless.

  83. Christiana Mastley*

    As an employee who recently left a job with my mental health in the toilet because my manager refused to have my back in multiple instances of overt homophobia, this situation (and OP’s behavior in it) makes me so angry.

    I often think longingly about what I could do with the energy I’ve spent navigating the homophobia both inside and outside the workplace over the years. I also think about how much less willing I am to be vulnerable with strangers in any context because I have so much experience with showing up authentically in multiple environments only to be met with overt disgust, judgement or fetishization by the people around me. Those experiences compound in emotional effect as they continue to occur. It’s hard to “leave work at work” when the message you take away from work is “in this environment, as in many others, the fact of my sexuality is a liability to my wellbeing and I will have to figure out how to navigate that on my own because the people around me do not care enough about me to act in support of me.” Homophobia isn’t just a minor annoyance for most queer people. It’s not just “oh, I have to go deal with that annoying coworker who doesn’t like me today.” It’s walking down the street and knowing every third person you see doesn’t think you should get married. It’s doing a calculation in your head every time you or your partner needs medical care because you have to take educated guesses about which medical provider offered is going to be least likely to be homophobic. It’s being able to look back at your life and point to multiple points in your career where being open about your identity resulted in overt discomfort from the people who control your promotions. OP has treated homophobia toward Darren like it’s a manageable inconvenience when homophobia, for many gay people, is a force that shapes us into people who distrust other people and breaks our hearts over and over again.

    I hope OP internalizes their direct responsibility for Darren’s ongoing mistreatment here and does better the next time around. And I sincerely hope Darren nopes out of that organization ASAP and goes somewhere that deserves him.

  84. Echo*

    What a tremendously complicated and unfortunate situation. I don’t think there is a clean-cut solution, but as a gay man who had worked in a relatively homophobic cut-throat corporate environment, I would say Alison’s approach the best I can think of.

    Reassuring Darren he has at minimum his boss’s support, even if it doesn’t change the underlying situation, may go a long way. I think it’s likely you may lose him, but if you provide him support and resources to look elsewhere, it would minimize having an employee who is over the situation and culture versus remaining productive and affable.

  85. Luna*

    …yeah, Darren needs to leave. For his own good!
    I can understand his not speaking up about direct harassment, if he genuinely has seen instances of ‘casual homophobia’ and similar occuring, and nobody doing anything about it.

  86. OP*

    I want to thank Alison and all the commenters here for your excellent advice and food for thought. And thank you for being far more understanding than I expected or, honestly, think I deserve.

    I am going to have a long conversation with Darren to ask what we do from here, what his plans are and how I can help. I’ve not done it yet at Darren’s request – he’s angry and would prefer some time to process that before he makes any decisions so he can make better ones

    I am working to combat rumours: I’ve had several senior managers combatting them but one of our main issues with senior management is they tend to be distant from day to day operations: I’ve know staff members not actually recognise them. What has been far more effective is our extremely formidable and slightly terrifying receptionist. She sees everyone, is something of a hub of (non-malicious) gossip and is now ferociously telling everyone the truth (and in far less diplomatic terms than Darren ever would). Since it’s backed by the managers I’ve spoken to it lends weight. Alan has dipped in everyone’s estimations from this but he reaps what he sows and it’s not my or Michael’s job to protect him from having a poor reputation from doing disreputable things

    It’s a small thing and we need to go far further. Ultimately this needs to happen for our organisation to do better, not as a ploy to keep Darren on side

    On our org – we are a non-profit contracted to provide a local government service. We are the only providers in the city (free, anyway; though not well funded) and our client base is extremely vulnerable, extremely volatile and often full of drama and tragedy. We are not allowed to exclude anyone who needs us. Even if we were extremely well run (as I’m sure can be gathered, we are not) a large number of desperate battles, heartache, stress is inevitably part of the job. Still that’s no excuse for not doing far better than we are doing when it comes to tolerating bigotry.

    1. Zarniwoop*

      “We are not allowed to exclude anyone who needs us.”
      Despite your office joke I would expect (or at least hope) that you wouldn’t actually have to serve someone who had previously stabbed a staff member. Perhaps some other requirements regarding not abusing the staff could be put into place? Of course this would require an attitude and values change on the part of your upper management, who sound like they suck.

      1. Zarniwoop*

        “Not allowed” by law? By government funding requirements? By partner agencies? By your organization’s own policies?

        There’s a saying usually used WRT dysfunctional personal relationships that may apply here too. “Don’t set yourself on fire to keep someone else warm”

  87. Pdweasel*

    OP, that workplace isn’t going to change. The more layers of the onion-turd you peel back, the turdier it’s going to get. Get out, and give Darren one heck of a stellar reference when he decides to bail.

  88. Blbit*

    I think both OP and Darren need to understand the power of quitting – you take your own destiny, not others; you make a call on in what environment and with whom you work.

    Take back that control, and make the right call

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